I got a fund-raising letter from the University of California Study Abroad Programs: Dear Jonathan, it has been 38 years since you studied abroad. That means that I have been a Hispanist for 38 years, in that I began a very systematic study of Spanish poetry at that point (really, before that, since I learned Spanish for this express purpose). I still remember poems from memory that I memorized at this point: "El alma tenías / tan clara y abierta / que yo nunca pude / entrarme en tu alma." Yes, I was a babe in the woods. It was a junior year program but I was a year younger, since I started college at 17. I turned 19 in Spain, right after we had arrived in a group flight that went non-stop from LAX.
I am sitting atop the proverbial gold mine. I've found a vehicle, the study of translation, with an automatically generated archive: you simply have to find the translations, which isn't hard to do. There is a sophisticated body of theory that allows you to look at this material critically, and the project has a historical sweep to it, both in the original texts, and in the translations. I don't have to be an expert in every original text, either. I can rely on accidental erudition and on a store house of ideas I have been developing since before graduate school, including two papers I wrote in grad school.
I realize I am not necessarily like other people.