This week, in addition to finding my way around a new city, I managed to finish up all the last pieces of homework and paperwork from last semester. This means that I have officially completed my first semester, and have hit the halfway point in my year, abroad. I thought this made for a good opportunity to compare my experience to the expectations that I had before I left England last summer.
I honestly did not expect to enjoy my first semester abroad as much as I did. Being something of a home bird, I had been dreading this year from the moment that I signed up to study languages. I wasn’t convinced that this was something that I was capable of doing, let alone enjoying! But I did. Settling into the rhythm of a new country and a new culture was a lot easier than I imagined and, while there were inevitably moments of homesickness when I wanted nothing more than to curl up with my dogs, I also experienced some of the most incredible Spanish food and cities, and met some amazing people.
I mentioned before in my post Speaking a Foreign Language Abroad, I found at the beginning of the semester that I wasn’t speaking as much Spanish as I would have liked. This was obviously a problem as the entire point of me being there was to learn the language! Ultimately, I had to go out of my way to create opportunities to practice Spanish, including starting a language exchange with one of the native students. This was not a difficulty that I was anticipating. Indeed, I found it somewhat counterintuitive and I came away from Spain a little disappointed with my language improvement, as I felt I could have learned more had I sought to expose myself to the language more, at an earlier point in the semester. This is certainly something that I will do differently this term!
In many ways, Spain was exactly what I expected it to be. As a language student, I had the distinct advantage of already knowing a reasonable amount about the country in which I would be living, so there was very little that came as a surprise to me. The food was the same amazing, flavoursome dishes that I had heard so much about. The cities I visited often presented a historical coexistence of cultures which resulted in stunning architecture and vibrant cultural legacies. The people were friendly and willing to help, definitely more so than you would typically find in England. The only thing that took me by surprise were my studies, which involved more hours of class than I was accustomed to and went much later into the evening that I considered reasonable. The threat of 9pm finishes is the one thing that I will not miss now that I have left!
Over and over again you will hear people talking about how much taking a year abroad has changed them, or those around them. If you’re anything like me, your internal response to that would be ‘how much of an effect can four months really have?’ The truth is a lot. My four months in Spain proved to me that I was strong enough, brave enough, curious enough to not only complete a semester abroad but to enjoy it and make the most of the opportunity that it presented. It taught me the value of experiencing a new culture and that travelling and exploring new places alone isn’t isolating, it’s freeing. My four months in Spain took me to three countries and ten cities, something that I never expected to happen when I left England in August.
As always, if you have anything to add or any questions that you would like to ask, just drop me a comment below!