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Saying ‘Si’ to a New Experience

One USC College undergraduate shares his story about learning Spanish in Spain.

Martin Hodis sits in the bleachers at La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid waiting for a bullfight to begin. Photo courtesy of Martin Hodis.
Martin Hodis sits in the bleachers at La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid waiting for a bullfight to begin. Photo courtesy of Martin Hodis.

Sometimes opportunity knocks. Other times, you have to force open the door, which is exactly what Martin Hodis did.

Hodis, 19, a sophomore with an undecided major in USC College, sought out the Summer Study Abroad program one day while in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He wanted to become fluent in Spanish, so when he spotted a flier about an overseas program in Spain, he jumped on the chance.

His interest in Spanish began in kindergarten, when his Guatemalan babysitter tried to teach him the language. As he grew older, he felt that speaking Spanish was a necessary skill.

“By the time I got to high school, I realized that Spanish is a good thing for me to know because I live in L.A.,” said Hodis of South Pasadena. “The city has a huge Hispanic population.”

Hodis was one of 20 students who participated in the overseas studies program to Spain this past summer. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese trip was led by Roberto Ignacio Díaz, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and comparative literature, and Maarten van Delden, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese who has since left the College.


Undergraduates from USC College's Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the top of the Castillo de Peñafiel in Valladolid, Spain. Clockwise from top left: Kelly Williams, Martin Hodis, Roberto Ignacio Díaz, Sonia Kamath, Rose Kirby, Erica Worthington, Jackie Burbank, Kesar Patel and Chelsea Robinson. Photo courtesy of Martin Hodis.

During the College’s three- to seven-week summer overseas program, students may also travel to Argentina, China, England, France, Italy, Japan, Korea or Russia. Each department throughout the College organizes its students’ summer trips overseas. After arriving in a designated country, participants learn a foreign language and become immersed in regional cultures.

The seven-week trip was Hodis’ first outside the country. He admits that he wasn’t prepared for some of the cultural differences and customs.

For example, he watched a bullfight, one of Spain’s oldest past times.

“Even though there were animal rights groups protesting against it,” he said, “it was interesting to see the tradition.”

He loved the food, but had to get used to the meal schedule. In Spain, lunch takes place around 1:30 p.m. and dinner is served at around 10 p.m.

“That was really difficult to get used to,” he said.

He was really impressed with the efficient subway system: “You don’t need a car, ever.”

But he didn’t expect the large amount of cigarette and cigar smoke in public places.

“The only place you can’t smoke in Spain is on an airplane or the metro,” he said.

Hodis, however, soon adapted. He stayed mainly in Madrid, but also explored Ávila, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada and Barcelona. His Spanish was greatly enriched by the trip. Even taxi drivers complimented him on his Spanish.

“I’ve been taking Spanish for six years now, so it’s not too difficult for me to get around,” he said. “But it’s still intimidating. I would blank out, ‘What is it that I’m supposed to say?’ ”

Friends, though, noticed his marked progress in speaking the language.

“I didn’t personally feel that my Spanish had improved that much, but my friends said, ‘No, no. Trust us. You have improved,’ ” he said. “So, I’m taking their word for it.”

Inspired by Spanish and travel, Hodis is considering a double major in international relations and Spanish.

“This would combine politics and foreign policy,” Hodis said. “It’s also analytical and involves a lot of writing and critical thinking skills.”

For the long term, Hodis — whose father is Howard Hodis, the Harry Bauer and Dorothy Bauer Rawlings Professor of Cardiology in the USC Keck School of Medicine — is thinking about law school for his graduate studies:  “With law school, you can go into so many other facets of the workforce. It broadens your horizons.”

He considers his time in Spain among his most valuable experiences in USC College so far.

“It was really rewarding,” Hodis said. “I had always dreamed of traveling outside the country. So I was able to live out a dream.”