GCC student brings home language, life-saving skills from abroad

September 25, 2008

In an emergency, communication is the difference between life and death. For Samuel Hudnall, an EMT and firefighter, using charades is not an option. The Greenfield Community College student and 29-year-old father of two was moved to learn first responder skills when his children were born.

“I really felt I needed to learn solid first aid skills so I would never be in a situation of wishing that I had known them,” he said.

Then, when the Leverett resident and on-call firefighter was hired as an EMT in Springfield, a city with some 40,000 Latinos, some of whom do not speak English, he had another wish.

GCC student Samuel Hudnall in Mexico

Hudnall was among the recipients of the 2008 International Studies Language and Culture Travel Award granted by Greenfield Community College. He traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico, this summer for three weeks and took intensive Spanish classes.

Guanajuato is the capital of the same-named state located in the center of Mexico. A small city of about 80,000 residents, it was founded in 1554.

It was a short trip that turned his world around.

“It was really an amazing time,” he said. “A totally different feeling. There are musicians playing everywhere on the streets. It’s a college town. Guanajuato is much older than any place I’ve ever been to, so there’s all this great architecture.”

The Spanish Colonial style he had seen in New Orleans came to mind as he walked around the city, which, he said, “was the full flower of it.”

He visited the Diego Rivera Museum, named after one of Mexico’s renowned artists, a political muralist.

During class, he learned the fundamentals of work-related words such as “help,” “right,” “left” and phrases such as “second floor to the right” and “a lot of pain.”  While three weeks of an intensive language class cannot make someone a fluent speaker, it provided him with key language skills and a sense of the history and heritage of the people he helps.

“My work as an EMT is not always a 911 emergency. Sometimes it’s a simple transport but now I can have a conversation with the person. I can tell them I’ve been to their country and that can help ease them,”  he said.

Charlotte Gifford, chair of GCC’s World Languages Department, said Hudnall’s transformative experience is common and the goal of the program.

Before his trip to Mexico, Hudnall had visited the English-speaking part of Canada. The time he spent in Mexico, he said, was enough for him to think of possibly moving there with his wife and kids one day.

“Just 1 percent of U.S. college students have a study-abroad experience,” she said, “and we need to greatly increase that number in this globally connected world. The chance to put into practice the lessons in language and culture that were initially learned in a classroom is invaluable, as are the many encounters with people with different world views and life experiences.”

Gifford noted that for the most part, financial, personal or professional constraints limit the opportunities for community college students to study abroad, even when they are studying another language and culture and would love nothing more.

“It is not always possible to take a year-long or even a semester-long program in another country,” she said. “Thanks to the generous support of the GCC Student Senate and the GCC Foundation, each year two GCC students can have 3-4 weeks in an intensive immersion experience abroad.”

Hudnall remembers once riding in an ambulance as a trainee and watching the EMTs make hand gestures and point out their instruments to the Spanish-speaking patient in an effort to communicate with him. Hudnall knew then that he could do more to help than check a patient’s vitals or administer first responder skills.

“I wanted to open the lines of communication,” he said.