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There is a certain vocabulary that pervades academic study – religious studies in particular. But the summer before entering the Harvard Divinity School MTS program, I was able to study a more common and immediately useful language: Spanish.

I had the choice of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, or German, but figured Spanish would serve me best in the study of contemporary American religion and politics.

This was all thanks to the Summer Language Program, which allows students to study two full semesters worth of language in one beautiful Cambridge summer.

I hadn’t taken a Spanish class since high school, and was a little intimidated before entering the eight-week program.

As it turned out, the language study was intense but manageable, my classmates were outgoing and friendly, and studying Spanish that summer was actually quite fun. The most disorienting part was actually trying to navigate the crooked one-way streets of Boston and Cambridge on bike. The cities are eminently bikeable, but the streets are more confusing than conjugating stem-changing verbs in the imperfect.

I figured if I only get two years here, I should take advantage of all that HDS has to offer. Because the Summer Language Program counts toward two semesters of language study, it freed up my class schedule for the next two years, while simultaneously allowing me to adjust to Cambridge on my own terms and make new friends. By the time orientation arrived, I already knew the geography, had housing for the school year, and had made a number of friends. Taking the program the summer before my first year allowed me to intern at Religion News Service the summer between my first and second year – another incredible experience made possible by HDS.

Classes meet 3 days a week, for a minimum of 9 hours total. There was a significant amount of homework, but the intensity of the program yields great gains. I was able to practice Spanish with friends outside of class, and began thinking in Spanish phrases as I ran along the Charles River.

I was fortunate to know people in the area that were willing to put me up for the summer. Those without housing connections might want to check out HDS housing resources. It’s also good to tell friends about your plans – it’s not uncommon for people to have friends in the Boston area, specifically people who might be willing to house you.

Money can be an important consideration, but it helps that tuition for full-time students is free: the cost is only a $50 application fee and $350 program fee. I couldn’t imagine working full-time while taking the program, but many people held down part-time jobs for the summer and still had time to travel on the weekend, go to the beach, or catch a Red Sox game.

Swing by the Summer Language Program webpage for more information.

¡Buena suerte!