Spanish major hones skills in Costa Rica

When University of Arkansas at Little Rock junior Forrest Goss received a substantial tax return in 2014, he decided to take a trip somewhere he’d never been. He chose Costa Rica — a place where he could practice and build confidence in his second language.

A Spanish major and legal studies minor, Goss obtained a passport and booked a round-trip flight from Dallas, following a recommendation from his cousin, who had visited the Central American country while in the Peace Corps.

During his eight days in Costa Rica, Goss spoke mostly Spanish. From the first day, his intermediate Spanish-speaking skills were extremely helpful, he said.

“A few tourist-oriented towns have a lot of English speakers, but in the capital and the smaller towns, it was nearly all Spanish,” he said.

“I was meeting some new friends for dinner and had to navigate my way through town by asking directions,” Goss said. “My Spanish skills were not as good as I had thought, but I also got good at speaking a lot quicker than I expected.”

He knew he was making progress when he took a two-hour bus ride to a town called Quepos and conversed with the woman next to him. She did not speak a word of English.

“By the time I got off the bus, we had talked about our families, our work lives, and the places we lived,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I learned all that without a word of English!’ That was one of the most memorable parts of my trip.”

Goss’ mentor and Spanish professor, Dr. Erin Finzer, has been an incredible resource for him not only in learning Spanish, but also advising, applying for scholarships and in providing letters of recommendation, Goss said.

He met Finzer his first semester at UALR while taking her Spanish 1 course.

“I have had a great relationship with her ever since,” he said.

Goss, a data quality manager at the UALR Survey Research Center, has had about half a dozen courses with Finzer.

“Being a full-time employee and student can be very taxing, and it feels good to have someone like her in my corner,” he said. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am without her help.”

Besides the Spanish language, Goss also is interested in human rights. He takes particular interest in the legal system in the U.S. and its accessibility to minorities, low-income citizens and undocumented immigrants, many of whom do not speak English.

“These groups are at an extreme disadvantage in our legal system and oftentimes do not get the legal assistance and fair treatment under the law to which they are entitled,” Goss said. “Furthermore, I suspect many people are not even aware of their legal options and thus are vulnerable to unfair treatment in the criminal justice system.”

After Goss graduates with his bachelor’s degree, he plans to go to the UALR Bowen School of Law and combine his Spanish-speaking skills with legal knowledge to become a resource to those who need it. In the long run, he would like to become involved in local and state politics and policymaking.

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