Today’s guest blogger is Ann Owen, who I met at a language exchange event in Minneapolis, MN. She is now studying at The Center for Cross Cultural Studies in Seville, Spain and I asked her to share her current study abroad experience.
Trying to learn Spanish in the U.S. was nearly impossible. I don’t know if it was the combination of taking other classes at the same time or if I can blame myself for rushing through the online assignments, but either way, I don’t remember actually speaking Spanish with fluent speakers until I came to Spain. Studying abroad in Seville has been incredible so far but the language barrier can be wearying. I get around fine, ordering at restaurants and asking for directions, but really getting to know the locals and opening up to them can seem impossible! Jokes always go over my head and carrying on a conversation in a loud place can be taxing. My school has an “Intercambio” program, which is similar to Language Exchange. As part of our curriculum we are required to take part in it, however, Alejandra, the Intercambio I was assigned, never replied to my emails. So I took it upon myself to post an ad on a website that one of my roommates showed me in search for a Spaniard who wanted to exchange languages. Now I have three Intercambios, whom are also good friends. Jose was the first Intercambio that I met and speaking with him was a bit awkward, especially since I wasn’t all that comfortable speaking at that point in time. The next week I met another guy named Javier who I felt much more comfortable talking to.Talking with Javier made me realize how important it is that I’m comfortable with the person that I’m speaking Spanish with. Being nervous makes it impossible. I also meet Vicky every week, which I always look forward to. We speak English for 30 minutes and then Spanish for 30 minutes. She’s unemployed right now (Spain has a huge percentage of its population who are unemployed) so we can meet up whenever I don’t have class.Gabriel, my newest Intercambio, gave me a flash drive of some of his favorite Spanish music and told me that a lot of the English he knows came from watching American movies and listening to American music. He also put some of his favorite American bands so that the next time we meet we can compare.For my culture class I have to keep a weekly diario of different themes. This week the theme is “How do you learn to live in a new culture?” So far, it has been rather exhausting to adjust because there are so many differences. Obviously, the language is different and it constantly surrounds me. My host mom yells “Español!!” at Natalie and I when we chat in English around the house and at my school we’re not allowed to speak English either. All of us students were required to sign an agreement to speak only Spanish while we’re at school. Another big difference I’ve noticed is the pace of everyday life. First of all, Spaniards walk much slower than people in the US. They eat breakfast in the morning and then lunch is the biggest meal of the day and it’s served at 2-3:30. It’s not uncommon to sit eating, chatting and drinking wine until 5:30 like we did yesterday. My host mom is wonderful. After she has some wine she doesn’t stop talking and she’s from Southern Spain, where the accent can be strong, so Natalie, my roommate, and I just nod, try to read her tone and body language and laugh when she does. We are improving though!! But I discovered that it takes a lot of time, effort and hard work to speak a foreign language and that I still need a lot of practice before I’ll be comfortable in every situation.
If you are new to the blog, check out our free language exchange community to find your own language exchange.