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This past week marked the beginning of the “Medicine in Spanish” elective. The goal of this elective is to teach us the skills (and vocabulary) needed to communicate with our patients entirely in Spanish. There are two classes that meet each week for one hour on Monday/Tuesday and 1.5 hours on Wednesday/Thursday, each with about 13 students. I’m actually the only second-year student in either class, but I’m enjoying getting to know the first years better.

As the course requires an advanced level of Spanish, the application process started a few weeks ago. Students completed an online exam (multiple-choice questions about grammar and verb conjugations) and then had an in-person interview/conversation with Ana Gonzalez, the course instructor. The main point of the application process is to ensure that the students have a basic knowledge and can converse in Spanish.

Next, the accepted students took last year’s final exam as a pre-test and attempted to take a standardized patient history in Spanish. We were not graded on this; it’s for research purposes so that we can act as our own controls. Considering that the first years don’t actually know how to take a history in English yet, the attempts are usually rather short.

And then came our first class: We began with a short icebreaker, where we had to say our name, a food we like that starts with the same letter as our name, and then list the names and foods of everyone who went before.

Unfortunately for me, I was near the end of the line and hardly knew any names before we started. Even worse, there were a large number of people with “S” names, so my list of foods shrunk rapidly. It was down to zero when it came to my turn. Finally, I just said something that I knew started with “S” – sangria. This got a laugh, and I’m sure I will be remembered for it for the rest of the year.

But you know the funniest part? I’m actually allergic to one of the spices in sangria and can’t drink it (bronchoconstriction is not a fun thing). But hey, at least it was memorable.

I’m really excited for this class and am looking forward to all that I will learn. I’m actually fluent in French and started picking up Spanish a few years ago. I can read Spanish easily, but when speaking, my Franish (French+Spanish) comes out in full force. Thankfully, as I’m immersed more in Spanish (even from just this past week), the French component is diminishing.

After this year, my next language goal will be to take the “Medicine in Mandarin” elective, which just started this year. (As you might have gathered, I enjoy learning languages.) I’ve been learning the Simplified characters in an attempt to read the Harry Potter books in Chinese (I have complete sets in English, French, Spanish, and Chinese). The elective is technically for first- and second-year students, but since I’m MSTP and will be here forever, I could also take it during the research phase.

Despite the cooler weather lately (although it should get warmer again this week), the flowers outside the medical school are still blooming. I saw these multicolored beauties after leaving the second “Medicine in Spanish” class and thought to share them with you. Enjoy!

Sara is a fourth-year medical student at UMMS. When not in the hospital, she can usually be found on the golf course or at a Michigan sporting event cheering on the Wolverines.