If anyone had told me that I would be fluent in Spanish four years ago, I would have never believed it because I never found myself capable. I truly thought that the only languages anyone could speak fluently were the ones they grew up with. This was until I took Spanish I in freshman year and then continued the following courses Spanish II, Spanish III, Spanish IV, and AP Spanish over the next 3 years. Before I knew it I was speaking fluently and was signing up for a study abroad trip to Salamanca, Spain. It wasn't until I go there that all of my confidence in my Spanish speaking skills completely vanished.
Not only did my host mom speak absolutely no English but she also spoke Spanish about a hundred miles a minute with her words slurring together. As difficult as I was, I was forcefully immersed in the culture which brought me towards fluency much faster. I was able to get through the process easier by only speaking Spanish and following the culture in every way possible.
Even though I had no choice but to speak Spanish with my host mother and teachers, it was very tempting to speak English to my friends I made on the trip. Talking in my native language gave my brain a break and made me feel more at home. As much as I wanted to be comfortable in a place so far away, I knew that I would feel a better sense of accomplishment if I spoke Spanish to everyone around me. At first, it was very difficult because I realized I didn't know every single word and I didn't have total confidence in speaking it in front of someone who had spoken it their entire life. I improved this by writing down every word I didn't know and looking it up in the afternoon.
I also practiced phrases that I knew I would need to use a lot when in class or at dinner with my host mom. Even after just a day of doing this I already felt much more sure of myself when speaking to people and most sentences I didn't even have to form in my head before saying them out loud. The sensation of speaking a foreign language, knowing that you're saying it right, and then receiving a positive response about your abilities is truly an incredible feeling that was only capable through diving head first into the Spanish dialect.
Adapting to a new culture is hands down the best experience I have ever encountered. It is essential towards getting everything you can out of a study abroad program. Spanish culture differs from American culture in various ways. For example, in Spain people eat dinner around 9 p.m., stay out until about 5 a.m., add eggs to all of their dishes, and throw their trash on the ground when they are done with it. I was not very interested in immersing myself in the culture at first because I like things a specific way such as the food I eat and my daily schedule. Living in Spain totally turned those things around. I had to switch my whole dining schedule, my food selection and what time I did everything while also coping with jet lag.
The thing I discovered was that living a completely different lifestyle for a short period of time is very refreshing. I can be very stuck in my own way of life at times and having this transition made me aware of all the different choices I can make instead of being stuck in the same schedule. By the time I returned back to the U.S., I had to switch back to the American lifestyle while also keeping in mind that it is possible to switch it up if I needed to. By engaging in the Spanish culture fully, I was able to expand my knowledge of different lifestyles.
I am very appreciative that I had the opportunity to learn about a whole new language and culture. All of the lessons and values that I learned while spending my summer in Spain will stick with me forever and will continue to inspire me to try new things.