In life, taking the first step is often the most difficult.
Going abroad is no exception.
It is a thrilling, scary, uncertain, and wonderful time. My advice: embrace it!
Those feelings of uncertainty will come to visit you again, many a time throughout life. Skills in adaptation contribute to becoming more versatile, competent and dynamic individuals. Traits such as these aid tremendously in the journey down life’s often twisted paths.
Expect to feel uncomfortable. It is in these moments of leaning into discomfort that we learn and grow. Actually, the more challenging an experience is, the more likely you are to learn something profound from it. Look for opportunities to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take chances. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, whether it be with language or trying a new food or activity. I ask that you take each experience as an opportunity to learn, not confirm. Going abroad is not just about experiencing another culture, it is about challenging yourself, your comfort zones and how well you know yourself. Give yourself a chance to develop an appreciation for how adept and open-minded you can be.
Here are my top 5 recommendations for stepping outside your comfort zone:
- Stay in a homestay.Here is the first important decision you can make to really embrace the culture and improve your Spanish! Sure, living with American students may be more familiar, but you have plenty of time to be exposed to your home culture, for the rest of your life! Live with a Spanish family, speak Spanish all the time, make mistakes, laugh, ask questions and LEARN. Being abroad is about people and connections and discovering cultural nuances through personal experiences. No one is going to learn Spanish for you, nor are they going to have fun for you. It is up to you to take charge of your experience. How empowering!
- Start conversations with locals. Chances are most locals will be interested in who you are and where you are from. By chatting with a local you could very well learn where the best coffee, best ice cream, or best beach can be found. Don’t be afraid to reach out and try. If someone doesn’t want to talk, they will let you know. I tend to believe, from experience particularly, that most people are interested in where your accent is from and what you are doing in their city. Be open and give it a try, you’ll be surprised at what you will learn!
- Go places alone. Now, I’m not talking about walking around dark neighborhoods late at night. I’m talking about finding your own space to think, reflect and be. Friends are an important part of your experience, however, an adequate amount of alone time is healthy and imperative. Develop your own opinions about your surroundings and your time abroad. This is YOUR experience, and one you are never going to forget. Discover your Barcelona and your unique niche in it. Make decisions based on what YOU want to do and be independent. Trust yourself and your preferences. Intuition is a powerful thing.
- Take food seriously. Few better ways exist to learn about the history and culture of Barcelona than through its cuisine. This means trying foods you would never normally eat and be open to interesting and unique culinary creations. Try it, if you don’t like it, that is ok but TRY! By committing to this you will inevitably discover a vast array of incredible delights that you would not have found otherwise. Imagine missing out on the most delicious treat you might ever try! Imagine it, but don’t do it! Taste is not a sense to be ignored when going abroad. Don’t deprive yourself of one of the best parts of Barcelona, it’s amazing food!
- Speak only Spanish. This is particularly challenging if you often find yourself surrounded by other native English speakers or if your level of Spanish acquisition is not particularly high. Well, so what? The further you lean into your discomfort with language the more you will learn. Imagine coming back home completely conversationally fluent! Is this a dream of yours? Make it happen! Speak Spanish every chance you get. Watch movies, read books and newspapers, translate your favorite stories into Spanish tales and tell them to locals, and of course follow my advice on the above mentioned #1 and #2. Make a pact with friends and classmates to only speak Spanish. Make your own jokes. Learn local slang and have fun with it. If your level of Spanish is on the lower end when you arrive in Barcelona and you fully commit to only speaking Spanish during your time abroad, you may find yourself elated when eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations at the metro station and UNDERSTANDING what they are saying to one another. The moment when a language stops sounding like dogs barking and you understand entire sentences, jokes and stories is a defining moment in language learning. And quite frankly, it feels incredible to just get it.
There’s no time like the present.
By Sara Bradshaw
Barcelona SAE International Education Intern