Fogarty, Alec


Name: Alec Fogarty
Location of Study: Cuenca, Ecuador
Program of Study: Rolando Ochoa Fund – Service Sampere – School
Sponsors: Bruce Broillet & Stacey Yusko


A brief personal bio:

I’m currently a Notre Dame freshman that will be graduating in 2015.  I’m majoring in Economics, Business, and will most likely add a supplemental major in Spanish.  I currently live in Minnesota and have two little sisters, aged 7 and 15.  Travel and experiencing new things are a passion of mine, and I plan to live in several countries in my life (hopefully Spanish-speaking).

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

Before my junior year of high school, I was granted the amazing opportunity to travel to Ecuador with a few of my teachers and classmates.  The experience introduced me to a life outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to open up to new ideas and new cultures.  Going back with this knowledge will allow me to jump right into the culture and excitement that Ecuador offers.

As for the future, this experience would perfectly set me up for a future of living and working abroad, particularly in Spanish speaking countries.  My dream job is to work as an economic developer for struggling nations in South America, helping to permanently bring people up and out of poverty.  Working in the hospital with impoverished as well as elite families of the country will give me some insight to the economic disparity of the country on an extremely personal level.

Intellectually and personally, the sometimes morbid ambience of the cancer hospital will cut deep into my heart, but the personal ties to the patients and the hospital workers will be even deeper.   The experience will allow me to give back to those who have not been dealt a hand that is as fortunate as my own.

I also am very excited about making new friends and meeting so many new people.  I love delving into new things and am really looking forward to the new experiences and situations that this opportunity could bring.

These are the personal ties that I am looking for.  I want to become culturally connected to the people, the traditions, and the history of Ecuador.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

As a result of my trip to Ecuador, I really hope to become fluent and natural with my spanish speaking and listening abilities.  I want to be able to communicate with any spanish-speaker with general ease and fluency, and also to be able to understand the speaker without having them repeat themselves.  That is my primary goal.  More than this, I really want to learn about and become integrated into the spanish culture and community that I will be living in.  I want to see how the people there live and how it differs from the US.  Working in the hospital will also be very enlightening and challenging, and I hope to learn about the medical state of a developing country as well as how the medical system there can be improved.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with any and all spanish-speakers, from a University professor to a five year old.

2. By the end of the summer, I will have so much confidence in my spanish-speaking ability that I will feel very comfortable talking to any spanish-speaker, not nervous.

3. By the end of the summer, I will have a deeper understanding of the medical system in Ecuador, and will be able to recognize areas in which the system could improve.

4. By the end of the summer, I will be able to fluently express my ideas in both a conversational and professional manner.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

While in Cuenca, I will be taking 20 hours of class a week at the international Sampere Language School.  Sampere has locations in both Ecuador and Spain, and is very well known.

Class will provide the formal side of the Spanish education, while it will be outside of classes that the majority of the experience is fulfilled.  I will be working at a local hospital on behalf of the Rolando Ochoa Fund, which is a non–profit organization founded by my high school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Ochoa.  The Rolando Ochoa Fund is an organization that aims to close the disparity between cancer treatments in the United States and Ecuador.  Children with cancer are the main focus of Rolando Ochoa fund, as Mrs. Ochoa’s daughter recently went through several rounds of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Leukemia.  This reflects the goal to “most importantly, bring hope and love to children and families who are going through such an intense journey (”

As for living arrangements, I will be living with a host family that Mrs. Ochoa will arrange for me.  The host family arrangement seems to me to be one of the most important parts of the experience.  It allows for me to create deeper relationships and to develop a more conversational Spanish speaking ability.

From the classroom, to the hospital, to the home, to the city, this opportunity will offer everything that I desire to experience, understand, and hopefully become a part of.


Reflective Journal Entry 1:  Pre-Departure

I’m NERVOUS. Real nervous. I’m not all that confident in my speaking abilities right now, so I’m really nervous. I have no idea what to expect from my family, from school, from the hospital, or from any of the people I might meet. Right now, I’m just hoping that I can somewhat understand what people are saying and that they can somewhat understand me. Pero vamos a ver! Two days until go-time!

Reflective Journal Entry 2: Departure

Up early for the flights. On the flight from Miami to Quito I sat next to a mother and daughter that live in Quito. I spoke with them the majority of the flight, almost all in Spanish, which really gave me some confidence in my communication skills. I’m only just beginning to realize how important confidence is when you are speaking in a foreign language. The daughter goes to school in Spain, is coming home for a few months, and then is off to France for an internship. WOW. The world is so much bigger than most people know. So many opportunities. Just so much more. Later on I met up with Ximena, David’s aunt, in the airport. I understood her and she understood me. It was awesome. Learned the word “cangrejo”, which means “crab”. Cray how things come together that you didn’t think you really had a grasp of from class. I began to use “haber” in the past, like I knew exactly how to use it fluently. Crazy.

Reflective Journal Entry 3: Arrival

Got to Cuenca and met up with David, his brother Sebastian, and his cousin Malu. We met up with two other cousins and went out for dinner. At first, I thought that I could understand them fine and that they could understand me. Once they started talking between each other, I realized that my comprehension skill were gone. The speed and the inflections and words that they used were all alien to me, I couldn’t understand a thing. This feeling of being lost and the inability to understand led to anxiety and stress that undoubtedly inhibited my ability to think clearly. Dinner that night became a blur of incomprehensible Spanish and frustration. The difference between speaking with adults and speaking with friends and young people became immediately apparent.

Reflective Journal Entry 4: Quarter

The first weekend of my trip we decide to go to Peru with six friends of David. As we get into the van, I realize how much of a challenge the trip will be. They all are speaking a mile a minute and I can’t understand anything. There is nothing worse than being unable to communicate with someone that is making an effort to speak with you. Saying, “No se, lo siento no entendi” is horrible. The entire weekend was filled with frustration and missed conversations. My spirits became a little broken, but I continued to try to understand and continued to speak as much as I could. I wanted nothing more than to just be able to communicate. Over the weekend it is interesting to pick up on the sayings, slang words, and other habits that they have, just like we do.

Reflective Journal Entry 5: Half

Spanish is getting better with time, just as I hoped it would. Class seems to be helping my speaking abilities so much. One day on the way home from class, I had a half hour conversation with a taxi driver. We spoke about his wife, his children, his job, where he had lived, what he had done, and about the differences between the United States and Ecuador. I understood everything he said and he understood everything I said (I think). AMAZING FEELING! From that moment on I became addicted to the satisfaction that comes with communicating fluently with people in a language other than English. That same week, the second week of my trip, Ecuadorians who now live in Florida came to the grandparents’ house to visit. For the first time, I spoke to the extended family with clarity, understanding, and even a little humor :D ! We spoke about how hard learning Spanish is, and about all of the grammatical rules there are. A cousin told me that his friends had taken a Spanish language grammar test and FAILED it! That makes me feel a little better about myself, but only a little. I’m really beginning to pick up on slang words and phrases that people say frequently. Combinations of words that wouldn’t make sense to me based on their English definitions are beginning to make sense in Spanish. I’m also catching myself more when I make mistakes. Where I would have used to say “ me quiere presentarle” to say, “she wants me to introduce him to her”, now I say, “quiere que le presente”, using the subjunctive. Awesome stuff.

Reflective Journal Entry 6: Three/Fourths

Speaking and going out with the family has become a simple joy that fills me with satisfaction and happiness. Just love talking to them about anything, they are willing to help me learn and have so much patience with me. I told them to always correct me if I say something wrong, and for the most part, they do. Instead of “acordas de yo”, they correct me with “acordas de mi”. Small things like that that makes all of the difference in a language. With vocab as well, the family makes sure that I understand what they are saying. Monica wont let me get away with just nodding and saying “si”, which is challenging and uncomfortable at times, but I love it. I’ve really grasped the Spanish language at this point I feel. It flows not. I’ve also begun to understand that things in Spanish will not be the same as they are in English. Spanish has its own ways of saying things, expressing things. Words that sound the same and have similar meanings can be used in extremely different circumstances and can have extremely different significances. I love it! Learning how to speak and how to use certain phrases and words in different ways.

Reflective Journal Entry 7: Final

I feel as if my Spanish is at a level that I never thought it could be at. I can communicate with just about everyone comfortably. Even people who I could not understand at all halfway through the trip, I can understand now. And it is absolutely awesome. Speaking with people is a treat! I catch myself when I make mistakes and know when something sounds wrong. I’ve been working on my accent and really have been trying to make it sounds as natural as possible. Words that have been impossible for me to say are becoming better and better. I use all the slang that the native speakers use, and I even know the majority of the bad words (hey, they are very necessary!). I feel half Cuencano now. It is an amazing feeling that I never want to go away. Leaving is extremely hard and I already feel the pull that is drawing me back to Ecuador to continue learning my new language, to spend more time with my new family and friends, and to continue living out the goals driven by a new passion of mine: Spanish.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My language learning process this summer was absolutely amazing.  Not to say that it wasn’t a challenge or that I wasn’t discouraged at times, the entire process was amazing.  One of the most important things that I have learned about language acquisition is that phrases, words, and grammar in other languages do not directly correspond to and english counterpart.  There are phrases in spanish that wouldn’t make sense when I tried to translate them directly to english, and after a while I realized that I had to take these phrases, these grammatical differences, and these differences in word usage as they were used in spanish, more particularly in Ecuadorian Spanish.  I definitely met my spanish speaking goals, as I was able to have intelligent conversations with almost anyone.  My speaking skills seemed to increase tenfold, while my comprehension and listening skills increased one-hundredfold.  It is an amazing feeling to be able to converse with people in a different language.  I’m addicted!

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My summer in Ecuador has changed my goals in life and has accordingly changed my direction.  The experience has made me a more open person with the ability to adapt and embrace any other culture or situation that I am placed in.  It has allowed me to embrace challenges and to persevere when things seem like they aren’t really worth it: the things that we work hard for are the things that will give us the most satisfaction.  To anyone considering the SLA grant or any other language study, DO IT.  Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Go into the program with a positive attitude, be ready to meet completely new people of all different types, and embrace the challenge!  It is not going to be easy, you will not  be able to speak or understand perfectly the first week, but keep trying!  It will come, and it will be one of the most rewarding feelings that you have ever felt.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Now that I’m back in the United States, I really want to make sure that I am able to maintain my spanish speaking and understanding abilities.  I’m still taking spanish classes, but outside of that, I am in the Spanish Club, and I will also be participating in service programs in the South Bend community.  I also speak with my host family and friends from Ecuador frequently.  I want to apply the skills that I have obtained from the SLA Program by working with the Latin American population here in South Bend, and post-graduation I will be looking to work abroad.  This program has truly changed my life.