Today’s blog post comes to us from University of Rhode Island student & API blogger Samantha Martins! She’s enrolled in our Integrated Studies with Spaniards program. She’s opening up on the highs & lows of learning Spanish this semester in Salamanca.
When people talk about going abroad, I’ve always heard amazing things.
People talk about how incredible it is to be able to travel, try new food, and meet tons of new people. From what I’ve experienced so far, this absolutely holds true, and I’m so grateful for all that I’ve experienced thus far. One thing, however, that isn’t as commonly discussed is the actual “studying” part of studying abroad…
There are tons of options when choosing to study abroad, and there is no right or wrong selection when it comes to deciding what program to participate in. For myself, I have always loved and appreciated learning other languages, and since I have taken Spanish since middle school, I knew I wanted to study in Spain and work towards bettering my Spanish.
After showing my Spanish teacher a couple of options of where I could go and what I could study, she eyed the “Integrated Studies Program” in Salamanca and told me that it would be a perfect fit if I was truly trying to better my language skills.
She also expressed her faith in me saying she thought that I was ready for it. This program meant I would be enrolling directly into classes alongside students who normally attend the university, so classes would be taught in Spanish. Feeling ambitious combined with her encouragement I decided to go for it.
Fast forward 4 months, and I find myself in Aula 28 for my first day of class – Semántica y Pragmática with Profesor González. For the first time since my arrival I began to feel nervous and started second guessing my choice of total immersion.
The professor was pleasant and the first day he focused on going over the syllabus, so it was not too difficult for me to follow along.
I wasn’t sure what these things called fichas were that everyone seemed to be handing in at the end of class, or how to access the website Studium that everyone already seemed familiar with, but other than that it was an okay first class. It’s been the lectures and assignments since the first day which get into the actual content of the course that have started to give me some trouble.
I am taking Semántica y Pragmática, La Novela Negra y Policíaca, Introducción a la Poesía Española, and Lingüística General. I genuinely enjoy the subjects that I’m learning about, but I’d be lying if I said class was a breeze. When people ask me how classes are going, I honestly never know how to explain.
The reality is that as much Spanish as I already know, there is significantly much more for me to learn.
Taking a course designed to help learn Spanish vs being expected to use that skill and perform at the level of native speakers are vastly different experiences.
Sometimes when I sit in class, I miss large chunks of information because I can’t keep up. During lectures, when all of the Spaniards around me are furiously writing and typing, I panic a little bit because I can’t catch onto key words and phrases that I should be noting. I’m lagging behind everyone else because while I’m simply trying to translate a word, the other students are processing the content of the class. I feel bad for the students who work with me when there are group tasks because I am very conscious that sometimes I just don’t have the capacity to contribute as much as they do.
When the professor cracks a joke and everyone laughs, I laugh along, but am honestly usually missing the punch line. Having a question and not knowing how to ask makes me feel like my hands are tied. It’s incredibly frustrating when I do actually understand what’s happening and have a response to a question, but don’t know how to articulate it correctly in Spanish. I have a whole new respect for students who get thrown into classes within speaking a lick of the language, it is a very daunting task, and that’s coming from someone who did have a decent background going into this semester.
However… would I change any of it?
As tough as it can be, sometimes it makes the little things matter that much more. Like how proud I was when I raised my hand for the first time in class to respond to a question.
Or when I finally worked up the confidence to introduce myself to the girl sitting next to me in Lingüística General. Or when I teach the Spaniards curse words and expressions in English, and they teach me the Spanish equivalents! I was thrilled when my Semántica y Pragmática professor asked me to share some norms in the U.S. when we discussing distancia interpersonal (interpersonal distance) across different cultures, and how he’s continued to call on me to provide a different perspective for the class. The greatest compliment I’ve received while abroad was when someone expressed to me that they noticed my Spanish improving. It truly is the little victories like these that matter the most when you’re totally out of your element.
Does it bother me sometimes that I don’t have as much free time as some of the other international students who’re taking classes designed for international students? Sure. Even though I have to put a lot more time into school work to stay afloat, I am still able to find my own balance in exploring, experiencing, tasting, traveling, dancing, listening, and learning as much as I possibly can. I also remind myself that the main reason I wanted to go abroad was to work on my Spanish, and there’s no better way than to immerse myself as much as possible.
I know that I am going to get out of these classes as much as I put into them, and for that reason I’m trying my very best.
A year ago, I would have never imagined that I would be reading Edgar Allen Poe for my Novela Policíaca class or think that I’d be learning about how the different types of afasias while in Spain, however, here I am, it’s happening. This integrated program has offered me such a personal experience with the place I am abroad in, and although it does have its challenges, vale la pena.
Hasta la próxima vez,