When I started my study abroad trip to Valdivia, Chile my Spanish speaking skills were very much under the margin of where I needed and wanted to be. I could barely put a sentence together without really thinking about what I was trying to say. When I got there I encountered the same dilemma, however over time and patients for myself and from others who understood what I was going through, I managed to gain self-confidence in my ability as a Spanish speaker and was able to make out perfect sentences, in my opinion, without much thinking at all. It was as if I was talking in English to others around me but only in Spanish. Of course I came across words and topics I could not express very well due to lack of vocabulary but with time and practice I learned new words, grammar, and technical parts such as subjunctive. I truly believe it was my program coordinators Raquel and Mauricio, friends who studied abroad with me, and the patients and understanding we all shared that truly helped me make leaps and bounds in my study.
I believe the most profound experience that had impacted me the most was when I was talking with Mauricio in Spanish and I was actually making an amazing conversation with him. Prior to this conversation, I was starting to doubt myself in my Spanish and thought “Why should I try anymore? I’m not going to get this down anyways.” And days after thinking this I was giving up on myself. It was definitely the hardest time I was going through, because my future I saw for myself was wrapped around the fact that I can fluently speak in Spanish. If not, then my major will mean absolutely nothing to my future or me. When I was talking with him, he was just smiling as big as he could and nodding and I was getting self-conscious with myself. I asked him if he could understand me and if I was saying it right, and he just laughed and said I was speaking like I was a natural, of course a second language natural. This little comment just lifted my entire spirit and confidence. Here was a native speaker telling me I was doing an awesome job. We continued our conversation and I just felt my confidence come back little by little. Of course I had to still revive my confidence with every conversation I had but it was a fundamental moment in my studies and reassuring me that I can do this.
My favorite class in my study abroad was Chilean Culture Class. My teacher was a little 5-foot woman named Maria. She was absolutely adorable and called me Lara since my signature ‘S’ looks like an ‘L’. She taught us about tolerance of the races and her personal experiences when traveling and living in the United States. She started talking about a cultural sign for Americans, which was the word “restroom”. She really needed to go to the bathroom and she thought the word “restroom” was somewhere with seats and television so one could relax in the airport. She walked for hours and hours looking for one until she asked a clerk and the guy pointed her to the “restroom”. She expressed it didn’t matter how smart you are, rich you are, or how much of a language you learned, unless you immersed yourself in a culture and learned about people you would never truly understand them.
Sara Eilenstine, Valparaiso, Chile 2013