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Kaitlyn Rogers: FLL Major Extraordinario

FLL Major Kaitlyn Rogers in a traditional Mayan huipil and corte dress (Guatemala).

The first impression you get when you meet Kaitlyn Rogers for the first time is that you are in front of a very intelligent and inquisitive person. Her sparkling eyes are particularly memorable: they don’t simply contemplate the world; they also constantly weigh in, inquiring and conversing with everything around her.

Kaitlyn, a double major in Spanish and Biology, is president of the FLL Spanish Club, and an aspiring medical student. As a Jefferson Scholar, she recently participated in an experiential learning trip to Bermuda.

She was my student several  semesters ago, and she was outstanding. The following is an abridged version of an email interview I conducted with her.

Samuel Sotillo: Tell us a bit about your background and your studies at NC State.

Kaitlyn Rogers: I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, about 35 minutes away from the NC State campus. I attended East Chapel Hill High School where, in addition to all the “typical” classes, I also took four years of Spanish. I knew I wanted to continue studying Spanish in college so I declared a double major in Human Biology and Spanish.

SS: Why did you choose your Foreign Languages and Literatures (FLL) major?

KR: I started studying Spanish in 5th grade and have been taking Spanish classes ever since. By my senior year of high school, I could hold a (slightly disjointed) conversation in Spanish and I didn’t want to lose that ability. I also knew that studying Spanish would make me more employable. I’m hoping to attend medical school after graduation and speaking Spanish will not only help my application but, long term, make me a more effective doctor.

SS:  What FLL program opportunities have been most beneficial to your education? What would you recommend to incoming FLL students?

KR: Many of the foreign language programs have clubs. I would recommend that any foreign language student, whether you’re a beginner or advanced, check those clubs out. I joined the Spanish Club at NC State in the fall of 2011 and I was elected president of the club for the past two school years which has given me a lot of great opportunities to not only make friends but also to learn about Hispanic heritage and culture (the subjects of our group meetings). Spanish Club also hosts conversation groups which have given me the opportunity to practice. Practice really is the only way to learn a new language.

The other major opportunity I’ve had (and would recommend for every foreign language student) was to travel abroad. In my case, I studied in Guatemala for seven and a half weeks this past summer with NC State’s Ethnographic Field School. While I was in Guatemala I conducted formal and informal interviews asking about the Guatemalan healthcare system. Beyond my actual research project, I learned a lot about Guatemalan and indigenous culture. I wore the traditional Mayan huipil and corte (blouse and skirt), made tortillas on a wood burning stove, and had long conversations with my host mother about school, the cost of eggs in the market, her family, my family and what it means to be Guatemalan, indigenous or American. My trip will be useful from a curricular standpoint. Beyond that, however, I learned a great deal about myself and the beauties of a culture that is both similar and different from my own (something which can only be touched on in a classroom setting).

SS: What community engagement opportunities related to your FLL major have most influenced your professional vision?

KR: Last fall I got an email about an internship with the Urban Ministries of Wake County Open Door Clinic. I mentioned in my cover letter that I was a Spanish major who was very comfortable speaking Spanish and, for that reason, was awarded the internship. I spent three months working with English- and Spanish- speaking applicants and, in the spring, started working as a nurse. Although the clinic has interpreters who help with Spanish-speaking patients, it’s great to not be reliant upon their availability to check in a patient or schedule a follow up appointment. Speaking Spanish was what got my foot in the door at the clinic and has been incredibly useful in my work since then. I’ve had my moments of confusion when patients use unfamiliar words but I’m continuing to learn and this experience has reaffirmed my desire to be a doctor — and to be a doctor who is fluent in Spanish.

SS: How has your FLL coursework and research influenced your decision to pursue a particular focus or area within your field?

KR: I’d love to do something like Doctors Without Borders and am definitely interested in the Peace Corps but working at the clinic in Raleigh has also illustrated the need for Spanish-speaking doctors locally. My work in the clinic has made me realize how much I enjoy working with patients, which, combined with my Spanish degree, has me more interested in fields where I will have more patient contact, particularly contact with Spanish-speaking patients.

SS: What is the most challenging aspect of your FLL major? What’s the most rewarding?

KR: The biggest challenge for me as a Spanish major has always been mastering Spanish grammar. I love being able to speak with native Spanish speakers at my job, in a store, or while I was studying abroad, but sometimes find that I don’t have the necessary language skills to understand or be understood. Fortunately, these moments of absolute confusion are becoming less frequent as I continue my Spanish major and my Spanish language skills improve. It’s incredibly rewarding to reread a short story which I struggled with in high school only to realize that I understand it perfectly now. All those classroom discussions of literature have increased my confidence in my spoken ability and having an actual conversation in Spanish has become easier.

SS: When you think of the future, what gives you a sense of hope? What concerns you?

KR: I won’t graduate until December of 2014 due to my dual degrees, but I’m already starting to think about life after college and what that will entail. Like a lot of soon-to-be graduates, I’m looking forward to finishing college and continuing with the next stage in my life (which will hopefully be med school) but I’m also worried about studying for the MCAT, the med school application process and creating backup plans. More long term, I look forward to seeing gay marriage legalized in all 50 states. I’m delighted to see healthcare coverage expanding here in the United States and hope that trend will continue until everyone has access to the medical care they need regardless of their personal finances or citizenship.

SS: What’s next for you after graduation?

KR: I’m planning to graduate from NC State in December 2014. After that I hope to go to medical school, although I’m also considering taking a gap year (or two) to join the Peace Corps or another volunteer organization. I will most definitely miss NC State and all of the friends I’ve made here but I’m also looking forward to being somewhere new.

By Samuel Sotillo, Webmaster/Lecturer, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.