On January 3rd, 1996, I embarked on one of the most wonderful adventures of my life. I traveled from La Paz, Bolivia, where I lived, to Washington D.C. to study English at the Catholic University of America.

I arrived in Washington D.C. in the middle of a strong storm; the whole city was covered in snow and there was a strong storm. I was supposed to take the metro (the red line to Brookland/CUA Station) to go to CU, but the trains were not running. Once the storm ceased, I was able to visit the campus.

I was impressed by the beauty and the harmony of the old and modern buildings, as well as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I was also delighted with the friendliness of the students, professors and administrative staff. The first day of class, I was told the guidelines of the program and basic rules to comply with while on campus. I barely understood what people were saying. After all, that was the reason I was there: to learn English.

On that first day I also met a girl who kindly smiled at me and who realized, right away, that I could not understand anything. Abir Fareed is still a friend. In one class, after many answers to my questions about English grammar rules--why this, why that? why?, why?-the professor finally answered: "Because my mother said so." At that moment, I realized that English grammar has many exceptions. I understood why we call our first language "mother tongue." And I also learned that English and Spanish are similar but different, and one can get easily confused.

During the next few days, I met classmates from many countries: China, Ukraine, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia. As their mother tongues were so different from mine, the only way to communicate with each other was through English. We were learning English, but we learned about the United States of America, about its culture, literature, history and more. We also shared our different cultures, customs, religions, art, food and experiences. I also understood that learning English meant experiencing life in English.

While I was in CU, I also enjoyed the love and generosity of my aunt and uncle Carolyn and Juan Carlos d'Avis, to whom I am deeply thankful. All these years, thanks to this English program, I was able to enjoy movies, songs, books, magazines, operas, all in English, travel around the world, participate in international conferences, lecture outside of my country, study law and work. Nineteen years later, I can still remember with accuracy many details from my experiences studying English at CU.

Gabriela Urquidi is an attorney-at-law in La Paz, Bolivia. She currently works in her own law firm.