Learning to Live in Two Worlds

By Natalie Eastwood ’17

When Lily Lizama-Rodas uttered her first words, it paved the way to her major, her extracurricular activities, her volunteer work, and, quite possibly, her career. However, it’s not what she said, but how she said it—in Spanish. Lizama-Rodas grew up in Chambersburg, speaking Spanish with her Guatemalan mother. She first learned English in elementary school.

Lizama-Rodas is a senior majoring in Spanish with a double minor in business and communication. She plans to continue her Ship education for two more semesters so that she can complete both of her minors as well as her certificate of translation. At Ship, she is a member of the women’s rugby team, New Student Orientation Team, and the College of Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Board.

In order for Lizama-Rodas to have gotten where she is today, she had some help. Although she is bilingual, she said learning English was challenging. The rudiments of the language itself were an obstacle, but it also created a barrier with her peers, so it was difficult to practice English in a social setting. “That was kind of challenging, too, not only because I didn’t know the language, but also because I didn’t have English friends to interact with,” she said.

There are always people there to help you—who see the potential you don’t see in yourself—and it’s good to open up and just let them help you.
— Lily Lizama-Rodas

In sixth grade, someone noticed that she was struggling and offered a hand. Her mother’s employer, William Gindlesperger, watched over Lizama-Rodas every day after school to help her focus on her homework. Gindlesperger is a university trustee and a member of the John L. Grove College of Business Advisory Board who works in Chambersburg.

“I guess I needed some guidance in my life, and that’s where he stepped in.” Today, Lizama-Rodas calls Gindlesperger “dad,” and considers him an unofficial adoptive parent. “There are always people there to help you—who see the potential you don’t see in yourself—and it’s good to open up and just let them help you,” she said.

Lizama-Rodas refocused on school and was accepted into the Milton Hershey boarding school program in 2009. She eventually earned a scholarship that helped her continue an education at Ship. “That kind of shaped my whole life, actually. It gave me the discipline I needed to continue going to school, and that’s also helped me with the scholarship I’ve gotten.”

At Milton Hershey, Lizama-Rodas lived with several girls under the supervision of two English-speaking house parents. This is where Lizama-Rodas became truly integrated into English culture. There are many subtleties between the Hispanic and English cultures that Lizama-Rodas has learned. Now she sees how both worlds differ, and most people don’t experience that, she said. “It’s opened my eyes to the many opportunities that there are and different ways of thinking about the world. I like to think that I’m very open minded to things.”

Lizama-Rodas said that adapting to unfamiliar situations has allowed her to develop a certain versatility that has and will continue to help her in unfamiliar situations.

“Everywhere there are going to be different kinds of people, and [they] are going to interact differently, and if I can have a common ground with [them], we’re going to connect easier. It’s a basic connection that I have. …I think that’s going to help me in the future because I can relate to a lot of different people.”

Much of her volunteer work traces back to her desire to give back and help others who share her culture and background. Lizama-Rodas’ mom raised her and her three sisters, one of whom is special needs, while working two jobs.

Starting her junior year of high school, Lizama-Rodas began volunteering for the Chambersburg Hispanic American Center (CHAC) for a few hours after school each day. She said she loved it so much that she still returns to volunteer with CHAC several times each month. Whether it’s answering phones or trying to connect more people to the center’s services, Lizama-Rodas said it’s rewarding to help others who are experiencing similar challenges that she once faced.

“For me, it’s a sense of giving back to my community.” Lizama-Rodas also mentors high school
students through the Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12, which is based in Chambersburg, and works with the Modern Languages Department at Ship. Many of the students who are a part of the program speak a language other than English. In the summer, she volunteers at Building our Pride in Chambersburg, a program for low-income students.

Most recently, Lizama-Rodas was voted vice president of SU’s Spanish Club, which she has been a member of for the past year-and-a-half. She hopes to revamp the club and extend its outreach. “I want to get all of the students in the Modern Languages Department involved in the club as well,” she said.

Lizama-Rodas plans to get her master’s degree and might pursue a PhD one day. Ultimately, she said she would like to use her Spanish on an international level by helping the US government communicate with people from Spanish-speaking countries. “It would be rewarding for me because I would be doing something good for my country, for my cultures.”

Natalie Eastwood ’17 is an intern for SU Magazine.