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Blogger Abroad: Language Immersion and a Dose of Humility in Spain


Our “Your Story on the Rails” blogger Gwen is studying abroad in Zamora, Spain, this summer. In this post, “Something New,” she reminds us that nobody enters a study abroad immersion experience fully proficient and that it’s those little on-the-go learning moments we’d breeze by in our native language that stick with us! In her own words:

When prepping for this study abroad, I’m pretty sure I wrote, “I want to try new things and step out of my comfort zone,” on anything remotely related to a list of goals. I mainly worried about missing out on cultural experiences or participation in events, but through studying a language abroad, I’ve noticed that it can take just as much courage to initiate normal daily interactions.

During my first week here, I realized I didn’t know how to say sunscreen right as I walked into a pharmacy to buy some. Thanks to a Spanish translation app and some good guessing on the part of a salesman, I purchased the sunscreen and left, albeit with a slightly bruised ego.

A couple weeks later, when I needed to reserve a train ticket for a weekend trip to Toledo, Spain, I was determined to be more prepared. Directed to the Zamora train station by my host mom, I grabbed a friend for support, as well as all the documents I could possibly need, and on the walk there, I rehearsed questions and answers in my head. When I arrived, I used a combination of speaking, pointing, and teamwork, and we successfully bought the tickets, thanks in large part to the lovely ticket counter folks at the station.

It was such a small task—I would never have counted it as a step outside my comfort zone had I done it in English—but gosh darn it, I was pretty proud.

For those studying abroad, I think a combination of preparation, courage, and the ability to laugh at yourself are essentials in the language immersion toolbox.

A bit of perseverance and self-kindness come highly recommended, too, because progress is certainly not a linear path.

Immediately after my little success, I walked into a fabric store and forgot the Spanish word for sewing. Ups and downs.

Each of us on the Lead with Languages team recalls that specific word we leapt out of our comfort zone to grasp in the grocery aisle or train station while abroad… Has this happened to you, too?

Share your story @LeadWLanguages on social media!

Toledo Spain Station Windows

Beauty in the Details: Spanish train stations, particularly those in smaller cities like Zamora and Toledo, are gorgeous. This station in Toledo, Spain, featured stained glass windows and chandeliers next to modern ticket machines and security checkpoints. Just look at that ceiling!