When you’re first learning something new, it’s a mix of adrenaline, excitement and uncertainty. A bit like being in the dark. But little by little, lesson by lesson, light pierces through the darkness. Things start to make sense.

Language is one of those things. Tonight, I volunteered at a Jesuit high school helping a senior student and her dad fill out the FAFSA for college financial aid…in Spanish. You see, when I introduce myself to Spanish speakers, I’m often met with polite skepticism as “un gringo de la granja” (foreigner from the farm). But, then I keep talking. And the skepticism fades to surprise and a smile as I conjugate the crap out of -ar, -er and -ir verbs at a respectable rate. I make no pretenses of having perfect Spanish. Far from it. I have fun with it and make jokes at my own expense, while being coached by native speakers. I expect that I will forever be learning linguistic nuances.

I have an insatiable curiosity to be clued in to Latin culture, and I have no idea where this comes from. Over the past 17 years, lesson by lesson, the Spanish language has ignited in my brain, piercing pockets of light through the darkness and creating an ear attuned to the sounds of el español. Here tonight I reflect on the lights: the lights on learning.