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May article

Martes, 1 de Mayo de 2018

Study abroad - a British experience in Spain

Have you ever heard the expression, progress doesn’t come from being comfortable? We´ve all been there, plodding along with work, school and our language studies but not always pushing ourselves and venturing beyond our comfort zone. Studying a language abroad can be rewarding not only for your language skills but for you as a person as you learn about other cultures, meet new people and discover amazing, new places. It can be about finding yourself (and others, too!). I still have friends I met on a language exchange in Spain when I was 16 and to this day we stay in touch via whatsapp and often visit each other during the summer. Cristina was a great host and tour guide when I stayed with her and her family to study Spanish 12 years ago and she helped me both improve and learn to love the language. Staying with her parents who spoke no English whatsoever, it became clear how useful it was to be able to speak a foreign language to be able to meet and talk to new, interesting people.

It can definitely be scary when you leave your home comforts and friends and say goodbye to your family at the airport or train station. I remember sitting on a Ryanair flight, surrounded by Spanish speakers wondering what I had signed up for. But after a couple of days settling in, I felt at home in sunny Zaragoza and forgot about ever being nervous to speak to strangers in a foreign language. I became more independent and it really helped me come out of my shell, having always been in a bubble in my home town surrounded by the same group of friends.

That’s not to say there were some funny lost-in-translation moments during my month away. My host mum Nieves took me on a tour of the city one afternoon and bearing in mind my Spanish wasn’t the best, when she pointed out a famous cemetery (I only realised afterwards this was what she pointing to and explaining), my response was “wow que bonito”, much to her confusion! Then the time she served up her famous cocido stew with just about everything under the sun thrown in. I wasn’t feeling particularly well but being far too polite (and British!) I didn’t say anything, thinking I could just have a small portion and go for a siesta, but the courses kept coming. The first course was a massive plate of chickpeas followed by a broth with huge pieces of meat and you guessed it, more chickpeas (which I didn’t even like)! Feeling a little queasy and sweating from all the food I clearly chose what was obviously not the polite way to say “I’m joking”, leaving Cristinas elderly, very old fashioned Grandmother nearly choking on her garbanzos!

The trip was also the first time I’d been to a discoteca. I couldn’t believe Spanish teens were allowed to go to clubs at 16 as England had a very strict “challenge 25” ID culture. Unless you got your hands on your sibling’s driving licence, you weren’t going clubbing until your eighteenth birthday. Cristina was very welcoming, introducing me to all her friends and as their English wasn’t great, it gave me another chance to practice my Spanish. It was so much fun to dance to Spanish music and immerse myself in the culture completely. If I’d chosen to stay in a hotel rather with the host family I wouldn’t have had all these amazing opportunities to use my language skills.

Using Spanish out of the classroom was different but really helpful both when I was in Zaragoza but also on returning to school in September. My teacher couldn’t believe how much I’d come along and she said my accent had really improved too. All those conversations around the table at Cristina’s house or ordering food at the local Café had really payed off. Not only did I manage to pass all my exams the following year, I will cherish the lifelong memories I made in Spain that summer.