I recently reached the half-way point of my month-long study abroad program in Madrid, Spain, in which I am taking 2 courses – a language course and a history seminar class taught exclusively in Spanish – and have participated in two excursions to Toledo and Valencia through International Studies Abroad (ISA), a program affiliated with Rollins.
This program also marks my fifth month living and studying in a Spanish-speaking country, as I spent four months in Chile through another study abroad program with School for International Training (SIT) before, just three short weeks later, arriving to Spain.
I specifically chose to participate in two language-exchange programs back-to-back in order to have a more intensified, language-learning experience in which I am immersed in my language of study for as much time and as consistently as possible. I first realized the importance of this thorough immersion through my first program in Chile, during which I spent the final month working on an individual research project, interviewing, writing and working exclusively in Spanish and traveling alone. Within these two and a half short weeks, my Spanish improved more than it had in my first month studying.
As a result, I have dedicated my time here in Spain to living and speaking with locals and the language as much as possible outside of the classroom. Instead of staying in a traditional dorm or residence hall in a university, I am staying with a local host family, an 82-year old woman named Irene and her fulltime living assistant, with whom I talk exclusively in Spanish. Outside of class, I am participating in a program of “intercambio,” in which individuals from Madrid, and students from the ISA program, are able to meet and practice their Spanish and English. Finally, with the friends I’ve made from my classes, students of other study abroad programs from Brazil, Holland, and Thailand, I speak exclusively in Spanish, even though all of us know and understand English.
With this constant practice, and my previous background living in Chile, my Spanish has continued to improve exponentially. Of course, it’s hard to continually be conscious of this growth, yet there are times in which I realize the improvement I’ve made, either by surprising myself with a new phrase or word remembered or understood, or complex conversation maintained, or by the words of encouragement given by my professors or homestay. It is these moments that continue to encourage me to push myself out of my comfort zone and speak, and speak often, with others.