Reverbs from the ECHO Chamber — a Q & A with Mr. Jeff Hurt

Preston Romanov, Editor in Chief

Another in a continuing series of Q & A interviews with Trinity faculty, staff and administrators.

 

Interpreting an entire day of wedding services, including music being performed by a DJ, and getting bit by a travel bug on your first trip out of the country, Mr. Jeff Hurt has had quite the multicultural experiences throughout his life.

A member of Seton House, Hurt is in his first year at Trinity and teaches German and Spanish in the World Languages Department. A Louisville native and a Holy Cross graduate, Hurt taught German at Indiana University Southeast for the past four years, and he spent 10 years living in Austria working as a Fulbright teaching assistant.

Preston Romanov: How did you become interested in learning and teaching Spanish?

Mr. Hurt: I think the main experience I had was going to Mexico when I was 18 years old. I went to Berea College and happened to see a poster — this was before social media. I would see posters all around campus for a month-long trip to Mexico, and I actually had gotten an independent football scholarship to use for anything of my choice before I went to Berea.  Berea didn’t have a football team; I was able to use that money to spend for my trip to Mexico.

                                             file photo
Trinity teacher Mr. Jeff Hurt

I had four years of Spanish throughout high school but never really had to use it. Suddenly being in the culture and immersed in the language, I had an absolute blast on a daily basis.

The professor that ran the course in Mexico required us to travel independently in small groups, so we paired off into groups of three and traveled around the state of Michoacán, Mexico. I saw that it was immediately applicable outside the classroom. When you find yourself in the culture, especially in the country, it’s infinitely useful.

PR: How do you balance teaching two languages at Trinity?

Mr. Hurt: It’s difficult. With German, just having lived in German-speaking countries for 11 years abroad, and so some of the time was in Spain and Mexico, some of the time was in Russia, and some was in Croatia, so my Croatian and my Russian aren’t that great, but they are okay.

Spanish I have maintained through friendships here; German more through my experiences while I was living there and maintaining those friendships today through WhatsApp, Signal, etc. 

I would recommend exploring your interest, following your interest, and if that language grabs hold of you, let that guide you as well. It doesn’t have to be a 100 percent logical process. If you follow your interests and passions and do them well, and really put your heart into them, you’ll find a way to make it.”

PR: What was your experience like living in Austria?

Mr. Hurt: Well, you know I grew up in Louisville. I grew up riding my bike everywhere. I loved riding my bike through the neighborhoods. Being in Austria at those historic cities, the historic city I lived in, Graz, which wasn’t bombarded in the second or first world wars, is totally intact.

There’s about three hundred thousand people in the space of downtown New Albany or downtown Jeffersonville. It’s very walkable, rideable, the space has a character, and you get to know everyone’s faces.

I remember there was a big park in the center of town, where young people would gather…play Frisbee, play basketball, and had this huge lawn. People would bring blankets and have picnics; it looked like something from a movie, where everyone just sits around, plays guitars, games, and you could just ride through on any day and find people you know.

There was a café/bar in the middle of it, so at nighttime, people would be there. They would provide bands that might play or have an evening of dancing, and people would come in and meet there.

Very centrally located, there was just a lot of life outside, and it was very concentrated, much more socially oriented and much more contact with people. In the U.S. we drive in our isolated cars and go to our isolated homes, and so there’s much more contact between people there.

PR: How did being a Fulbright teaching assistant prepare you to become a teacher?

Mr. Hurt: You’re just thrown into a situation where you have 20 to 30 teenagers that you’re responsible for. I was lucky enough to where I was there for the usage of the language, to help them overcome any inhibitions they might have with speaking, so lots of task-oriented things.  I worked at two large schools and had a lot of different classes, so I wasn’t really prepared to bring a lot of lessons. I was preparing a few lessons but teaching them to many many classes, and it gave me a chance to really refine my skills.

PR: How do you feel about translating?

Mr. Hurt: I’ll tell you a story; this was probably the most fun part of translation that I have had so far. A friend of mine from Texas got married to a guy from Austria. I was living in Austria, so one day she told me, thank you so much for my wedding gift of translating for my wedding. I hadn’t thought of ever doing this; she was just saying you will do this for me.

I interpreted at the actual wedding, between the family from Texas and the family from Austria, and then it just continued all day.

When the DJ came out to play music and do games and everything, I had to translate and interpret everything that he was saying into English and back and forth, so it was these two different worlds meeting and playing games with each other.

It was fun. If I could be a marriage interpreter, that would be the thing to do; that would be fun. I also have interpreted at international conferences in Austria. There was a delegation from Manchester, England, and they came to a conference at the courthouse and had me be their interpreter.

PR: What was your role/position at Fulbright?

Mr. Hurt: I was an English teaching assistant for the Austrian American Fulbright Commission. I worked at two different high schools. One was a technical college — they would graduate with certification in different technical fields. I had to take over classes for a couple of weeks. I did projects with them; for example, at school we did a week where we got their resumes together for when they would graduate in English, get their cover letters, essentially a job application process in English for these kids who might go out and work in a more international context.

PR: Who inspires or motivates you?

Mr. Hurt: I am often inspired by people who find balance, the golden middle between work and recreation, rigor and relaxation. It’s hard for me to say any specific people, but I’m also a practicing Catholic, so I do look at Christ for answers, to be perfectly honest.

PR: A column in the ECHO posed the question about whether learning a second language should be required in all schools. Your opinion?

Mr. Hurt: Exposure to a foreign language, I would say yes; it should be required on that basis. It can do so much to just widen your perspective, to show you different ways of perceiving the world and how much we are influenced by our language in the way that we think.

No one should be forced, but I do believe it is tremendously beneficial. And I don’t want to see anyone deprived of that opportunity because it can also be a great sense of joy.

PR: For high school seniors graduating and going to college next year, would you recommend study abroad opportunities?

Mr. Hurt: Oh yes, 100 percent. During my freshman year in college, I got to go to Mexico for about a month. I was listening to a podcast the other day where they talked about study-abroad programs have shortened quite a bit. It used to be standard for anyone that was going to get a minor or major in a foreign language to spend at least a year, and now it’s been condensed to a semester at most. I think you need a solid six months before you can even begin to encounter the culture, and I think you need nine to 12 to start making connections with other people, deeper connections.

You’re going to acquire the language through relationships, and it takes time to build those relationships and friendships. It’s easier to do when you’re in college and in your early 20s; there’s a lot of advantage to it. It does do a lot to open your eyes to different ways of thinking and doing things. Definitely go for it.

PR: Any advice for someone who is considering majoring in a foreign language or teaching a foreign language?

Mr. Hurt: Always pair it with something professional as well; that’s just going to make you stronger. I paired my foreign languages with psychology, for example. I actually worked in mental health for eight years in Austria, and so I was working in the language in that field of expertise. There’s perhaps no better way to learn a language than exploring material that you are interested in or a topic that you are interested in in that language.

I would recommend exploring your interest, following your interest, and if that language grabs hold of you, let that guide you as well. It doesn’t have to be a 100 percent logical process. If you follow your interests and passions and do them well, and really put your heart into them, you’ll find a way to make it.