Although the flurry of activities, exams, and last-time visits with friends made it hard to process, the last week of my Study Abroad program in Madrid brought countless emotions. Of course, I was sad and already missing the friends I had made in Spain, the newfound comfortably I had felt with the city’s workings, and the classes I had attended. Yet, mostly, I was sad – and scared – to leave the total and all-encompassing immersion in the Spanish language. I felt sad because I loved the challenge of a constant need for and practice of the language, with everyday interactions transformed into a trial and, as a result, an opportunity for a tiny triumph. I also felt scared because, knowing that I would never be able to completely recreate this type of learning environment in my own country, I feared that I would lose the language skills I had spent the last month honing and developing.
As I returned to the U.S., attempted to recover from jetlag, and unpacked by bags, I also began developing proactive strategies through which I could continue to practice and develop my Spanish, despite the fact I was no longer surrounded by the language. Now, in addition to continuing my language classes at Rollins, I plan on meeting with Spanish-speaking friends once or twice a week to share a dinner and conversation entirely in Spanish. I’ve also found myself becoming engrossed in Spanish music, television programs, and movies, using them as resources and learning opportunities to practice my listening comprehension as well as exposure to cultural nuances. Finally, I hope to put my language skills to use by volunteering at organizations, such as the Hope CommUnity Center or Planned Parenthood, that target their outreach to Latinx and Spanish-speaking populations.
Yet what I fear most is that the end results of all these efforts will be nothing more than a maintenance of my current level of Spanish, preventing me from losing what I have gained while being insufficient to boost me up to the next level. Of course, this is one of the inevitable challenges of returning from studying abroad – an obstacle that I’m looking forward to meeting and overcoming through continual practice.