I arrived at Meredith as a native Spanish speaker, but soon realized that I didn’t fully understandd the language. I learned Spanish at home, but had perfected only the spoken language. I was severely limited in my writing and reading. Through my experience in Meredith’s Foreign Languages Dept, especially the efforts of Dr. Hatsy Nittoli, I became more proficient in Spanish. She was more than a Spanish professor; she inspired me and opened a whole new Latin American world to me.
While in Spain three different times, I had many funny experiences, all revolving around vocabulary. In Cuba we call a pen pluma, which literally means ‘feather’—a word derived, as I imagine, from the old quill feather pens. In Spain, though, a pen is called boligrafo. When I asked Spanish store clerks for a pluma, they laughed, thinking I wanted a feather. I had a similar experience in Spain asking for a bag.
When I taught in Texas, all of my students were from Mexico. We learned a lot about each other’s vocabulary, the hard way. I made up a song about a reward system that I sang to my students. The song informed them that when they had earned a certain number of points, they would get a popcorn party. Well, apparently, the word for popcorn is different in Mexico and Cuba, so my students had no idea what I was singing about! More importantly, I learned that my Cuban way of saying ‘to get’ is a very bad word in Mexico. The kids started laughing! At first, I thought they were laughing at my terrible singing! Later, the teacher assistant in my room clued me in to the horrid word that I had just said to a group of eight-year-olds. One last story about the different vocabularies in Spanish-speaking countries: it’s about ice cream. One day, a student asked me when we were going to get nieve. I thought he meant ‘snow’, and since it never snowed in Austin, where we were, I answered, ¡Nunca! (’Never!’). He looked so disappointed by my answer, and I was surprised myself. It ends up that nieve means ‘ice cream’ in Mexico. My student only wanted to know when the cafeteria was going to start serving ice cream.
Meredith College more than prepared me to face the real world. Professors want you to succeed. You are not just a number. I was able to go back to my first math professor when I needed help during a higher level math class later in my college career. I still keep in touch with professors and friends from Meredith College. It’s more than four years, it’s a lifetime of relationships. I can run into strangers wearing the black onyx and we immediately hug and start reciting the Caterbury Tales in Old English. I always say my time at Meredith are the best four years of my life, I already know.
—Nelly Navarro-Britt, ‘99