During my study abroad experience in Mexico I made an effort to travel to various cities outside of my homestay in order to get a feel for life in a variety of locales. One of these trips was a weekend in which my father and I (he had flown down to visit me and see the sights) traveled to the small city of Jalpan in the Sierra Gorda outside of Querétaro. We had to check out of our hotel incredibly early in the morning and made the somewhat foolish decision of paying as we checked out rather than when we made the reservation. As our luck would have it the machine in which the hotel was using to keep track of reservations and payments decided to stop working and various problems arose regarding our payments. Seeing as my dad doesn’t really speak any Spanish the task of sorting out the reservation fell on me as I struggled to force myself out of my sleep-deprived stupor. I spent about an hour speaking with the hotel employee working everything out, stretching my limited Spanish skills to their limits before we were able to leave and catch our next bus.
Although I had already been in Mexico for a few weeks at that point, looking back I realize that dealing with the reservation problem was probably my first big challenge which I faced while studying abroad. Especially when considering my level of Spanish upon arriving in Mexico (I had studied the language for a little under a year), being thrust into a position in which I had to problem solve in a foreign language whilst sleep-deprived was rather intimidating. I am fairly confident that had I been thrust into that position before studying abroad I would not have been able to have much, if any success solving our payment dilemma. I was able to overcome this linguistic hurdle primarily due to the confidence speaking Spanish which I had obtained from my then limited time abroad. Looking back I am able to appreciate truly how fast one’s language skills and comfort speaking improve whilst studying abroad. Moreover, speaking with the hotel employee was one of the first times in which I had practically spoken Spanish for an extended period of time. In many ways it was like a door had been opened for me. Suddenly the idea of speaking to strangers in Spanish didn’t scare me; I had proven to myself that it was possible for me to speak and not make a fool out of myself. After that weekend I found myself much more willing to speak Spanish with strangers, a change which greatly enhanced both my language skills and my experience abroad.
Ryan Sherrard, Spanish Language and Culture in Queretaro