Active Learning

I have a love/hate relationship with Dwinelle Hall’s southwest stairwell. Though there is nothing particularly exceptional about the stairs themselves (no sweeping spirals or breathtaking Bay views from here, folks!), I have encountered them every weekday morning around 9:06AM for over a semester now, and I think it’s safe to say that exposure like that can elicit some strong emotional responses.

A high school biology textbook of mine once stated, in an attempt to stay relatable in the eyes of its teenaged target audience, something along the lines of: “A reasonably fit human being should be able to ascend three flights of stairs with a backpack on and make it to class on time without being out of breath.” What a farce. I am a reasonably fit human being—in that I do semi-regular yoga and occasionally take it upon myself to run up North Side’s Euclid Ave. to the Rose Garden—and every weekday morning around 9:09AM for over a semester now, I have arrived in Spanish class jadeando y sudando. Gasping and sweating.

I don’t have to be there. Spanish classes do nothing for my major, and I fulfilled my foreign language requirement with high school French. There are numerous ways in which I could satisfy the international studies breadth requirement that don’t require the daily, rigorous, five-unit courses that can be expected from the Berkeley Spanish Department. But I promised myself when I graduated from high school that I would leave college as close to fluent in Spanish as possible, and I have not faltered in that resolution.

It hasn’t been easy. Berkeley students know that nothing worth having ever is. While I have progressed, over the course of a year and a half, from the simple holas and me llamos of Spanish 1 to active participation in a debate regarding el apropriación cultural in my Spanish 4 class last week, language acquisition is a long, slow, and arduous process. Whenever I am proud of myself for having grasped a particularly tricky grammatical concept, a baffling new mood, tense, or pronoun quickly shows up to take its place. If I get too confident after successfully navigating conversations with my equally tentative peers or infinitely patient GSIs, a conversation overheard on the street will remind me that “real Spanish” is spoken quickly. Really quickly.

So where do the stairs come in? That’s fácil. That’s easy.

I feel the same way about the stairs I take to class every morning that I do about the language I continue learning, slowly but steadily, once I sit down, sip some café, and catch my breath. They both require me to have faith in myself, and they both take work. There have been times that I have questioned my sanity in the midst of confronting each of them.

Maybe I should have taken another few runs through those flashcards, I think to myself when a grade comes back that’s lower than I’d like it to be, or when I fail to express myself in class due to a lack of crucial vocabulary.

Maybe I should have gone to the gym last night instead of ordering Yogurt Park on Postmates, I think to myself when I’m halfway up the stairs.

But la cosa más importante, the most important thing, is that both activities are completely worth their trouble. The daily morning stairs, taken at an awkward jog to make Berkeley time, are what get me to Spanish class. And Spanish class is what helps me gradually uncover the treasures of the hidden world that exists within bilingualism.

Who knows? Another few years of hard work, and I could not only be speaking more or less correctly, but I could also have really toned legs.

Todo es posible.

Author: Aubin Fefley

Howdy, readers! My name is Aubin Fefley and I am a second-year English major here at Cal. I grew up in Denver, Colorado, but despite my intense hometown pride, I absolutely adore living and attending school here in the beautiful Bay Area! When I'm not in class, you can usually find me volunteering in local public schools (I'm a writing tutor at Willard Middle School and a classroom volunteer at Oakland International High School), drinking coffee (it's truly an obsession), reading (for class AND for fun), or adventuring anywhere from Half Moon Bay to Marin. I am incredibly passionate about education and hope to become a teacher after I graduate, but my eventual goal is to be able to make a living as a novelist. Berkeley has helped me learn and grow in ways that my high school self never could have possibly imagined, and I am so excited that I am able to share my experiences with all of you. Go Bears!