Department of Spanish and Portuguese

College of Letters & Science
HomeByron M.

Byron M.

Major(s) and Certificate(s): 

Spanish, Mathematics

Graduation Year: 
Current city: 
Current state/province/country (if outside US): 
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?: 

I've worked several jobs—bank teller, computer consulting, software implementation—but I've really found a home at my current job on Madison's west side, an accounting manager for RockAuto. One might think that accounting for auto parts has more to do with math than with languages, but my daily responsibilities involve engaging with international payment processors, vetting risky transactions across the globe, and contacting foreign banks to determine the validity of a sale. I've conducted all of this in Spanish at one time or another. We have customers all over the world, and my colleagues and I speak to them daily. A degree in Spanish can take you places you'd never thought you'd be—just 15 minutes from campus!

Language(s) : 
What motivated you to study this/these languages?: 

My high school offered a strong foreign language program, so I entered the UW having already advanced well into second year studies. In that sense, studying Spanish was a no-brainer, but during my first year I also began to realize that foreign language acquisition bolsters one's sense of expression. It brings you closer to life's content, which surrounds you all the time even though you might not realize it. The more languages you speak, the more of that content is unlocked for you. It was really a natural progression for me.

How have these languages enriched your life?: 

When I look back, the aspect of speaking a second language that really surprises me is how much my control of English has improved. I wrote far more term papers in Spanish than I ever did in English, but learning Spanish from the ground up as an adult forced me to reconsider the way I composed my thoughts in both languages. Grammar might be innately human, but it really takes a second perspective to realize how much you can stand to improve communication in your native tongue.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?: 

Classes in the Spanish Department were more intimate. I can only recall one class I took in the department that had more than about 35 students. As a consequence, you develop a relationship with your instructors and peers that you just don't see elsewhere. This is especially true when those classes are taken abroad because you come to rely on those close to you not just for academic support, but for social support, too. The content of literature courses is much less dry than most give it credit for. The level of satire in Medieval Spanish Literature, and in some cases, raunchiness, motivated me to never miss a day in two semesters.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?: 

Without a doubt, the strength of a study abroad program is that it extends the skill of the participant no matter how advanced he was when he started. I was fortunate that the UW prepared me well for my experience in Madrid, but others in my program were only seeking immersion while pursuing a Spanish minor. Depending on your proficiency, just maintaining yourself socially can be a struggle at times. Nevertheless, we all found our own way to advance, whether it was dealing with a crazy landlady or just trying to figure out the local word for "hangover".

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?: 

I use Spanish frequently at RockAuto, where I work. I've visited a number of Spanish-speaking countries on holiday since graduation (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, etc.) When I travel to larger cities within the US, I make an effort to explore the area on foot or bike. You'd be surprised at how much Spanish is spoken or written just around the corner from where you are. I continue to read Spanish literature–most recently Rayuela by Cortázar–and occasionally I'll watch the Mexican broadcast of international soccer matches.

What advice do you have for current language students?: 

Don't stop at one language. Spanish and Portuguese are taught by a single department, so crossing over is trivial. More to the point though, after just a couple years into your first new one, you'll find you can pick up completely unrelated languages (Fon, Serbian, whatever) because your mind begins seeking the subtleties that make acquisition easier. Don't think that learning to speak comes from language classes alone either; I learned significantly more Spanish in literature classes than I thought I would and the level of academic rigor was at least as strong. Plus, those classes had more openings.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?: 
Ser feo con ganas–"to be so ugly, as if willingly"