People often have misconceptions about studying abroad. Many people assume that you have to learn a foreign language to study abroad and that’s not true. Most colleges and universities have a wide variety of countries where someone can spend the summer or the semester. For example, I knew a girl who spent the summer in the U.K. There are many opportunities to study in countries where English is the national language. However, learning another language is also a huge benefit. Depending on the program, limited language skills are needed to participate. Once you have arrived in the country, there is usually a component of the program where you take language classes.
I can’t afford to study abroad.
Another myth is that you have to have loads of money to be able to do so. That is also not true. Many times there are scholarships that are available to offset the costs. I will say that it is helpful to have some extra money saved up in case you want to travel to surrounding countries/cities. When I lived in Spain, many of my classmates would take advantage of long weekends and go to neighboring countries in Europe. At the time, I didn’t have as much money at my disposal so Morocco was the extent of my traveling outside of Spain.One of the reasons that Americans in particular have a bad reputation abroad is because many Americans don’t make the effort to learn even a few phrases in the language of the country they’re visiting. Many Americans just want everyone to speak English to accommodate them. That is very problematic because when foreigners come to the United States, they usually have to know some English because by and large most Americans only speak English. Based on that I feel that if at least know how to say hello and thank you then that shows that I’m making an effort. I’ve also learned that most people will do their best to assist you because it shows that you’re making an effort to speak their language.I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain and Mexico. I enjoyed Mexico more for various reasons.I’ll talk more about my time in Mexico in an upcoming post. However, both countries have been vital to my ability to speak Spanish.
Book Spanish versus Street Spanish
When studying a foreign language in elementary school or high school, you typically learn the text book version of the language. In other words, you don’t learn the slang or the vernacular that most people commonly use in their daily lives. Also, when you’re forced to use the language in a variety of situations it makes you feel more comfortable speaking the language. I remember before I left for Spain, the subjunctive tense was very hard for me to understand. Honestly, it didn’t make sense until I lived in Spain and I was able to hear how it was used.My time in Spain was eye opening but it wasn’t always an easy place to live. One of the things that stands out in mind when I think about living in Spain was being followed around in stores. Not every store was like that but there were a few stores that I recall being constantly followed in. It was mind boggling to me because I didn’t understand what was it about me that would make someone feel that I’m a potential thief. I soon realized that it was because of my skin color. I felt this way because I didn’t see Spanish patrons being followed around. It made me angry because it was truly one of the first times that I experienced such outright racism. The thing that also made no sense to me was that usually I was followed in the stores that were owned and operated by Asians. I didn’t understand why I was being treated differently by people that were also not Spanish but also living in Spain. Clearly we were both foreigners but to them I was a suspected thief. Even though this aspect of my time in Spain was unpleasant I didn’t allow it to mar my complete impression of Spain.
Won’t be home for the holidays
One of the memorable times that I recall when I lived in Spain was when my sister Camile and her friend Kelly came to visit me. We had a lot of fun. We spent days shopping in Madrid. We went to the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. We went to the famous El Rastro flea market. El Rastro is basically a flea market on steroids. There are people everywhere and it’s prime territory to be pick-pocketed. Luckily that didn’t happen to us but it could have. They sell everything that you can imagine: jewelery, art, clothing, housewares, purses, souvenirs, etc. The list goes on and on. It happens every Sunday. If you’re ever in Madrid on a Sunday, it’s definitely worth checking out. However, if you’re not into crowds then you should skip it. It was really nice having my sister and Kelly visit in November because they came around the Thanksgiving holiday so it was really special being with family. It was the first time I hadn’t been home for Thanksgiving.
Legal drinking age is...
One of the cultural things that was really different for me was that my host family had wine with most meals. I grew up in a family where alcohol was very much taboo so this was different for me. At the time I didn’t like wine, so I didn’t normally drink wine with my host family. Oh how times have changed 🙂 It was also different because my host brother and my host sister would have wine and they were definitely not 21. In Spain the legal drinking age is 18 and they were both under that age too. My brother was 16 and my sister was 12. It seemed so normal for them. With time, it became normal for me as well. Having wine is such a crucial part to Spanish culture that it made sense.I recommend studying abroad for countless reasons. You get out of your comfort zone which forces you to really grow as a person. It allows you to not take things for granted. It also opens up your view on the world and it shows you how people of different cultures live. Like I mentioned earlier, it gives you the opportunity to learn another language which is priceless. It also allows you to relate to people from different backgrounds. If I had never studied abroad, I’m sure that my Spanish skills would have suffered. I perhaps would never have gotten bitten by the travel bug. I can go on and on. I encourage all students of any major to study abroad if even just for the summer, it is an experience that you will not regret. I guarantee you!