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My First Study Abroad: Being Dropped in Another Country

Kaleb leaning on a fence in front of a large building
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By Kaleb Hyatt, University of West Georgia student

Lead with Languages Teacher Scholar Class of 2021

Hola! My name is Kaleb, and I am a Spanish language major at the University of West Georgia. Last summer, I had the opportunity to study in Madrid, Spain, and I am so excited to have the chance to bring you all along as I provide some insight on studying abroad, language learning, culture, and my experience during my trip.

When I was there, I stayed at el Colegio Mayor Padre Poveda, which during the regular school year is a private, all girls college dormitory, and I was there for a little over a month. I took classes in Spanish about language skills and Spanish Art History. I went to class twice a week, had excursions in and around Madrid the other two days, and then had the weekends free to travel throughout Spain.

Just a week in, I'd already met so many new people, seen new places, and grown so much in my language skills.

You do not realize how fast you can truly improve speaking and comprehensive abilities until you’re dropped into the center of a country that speaks your target language.

As a future Spanish educator, that first week taught me so much. I feel more prepared to speak on culture and daily life specifically here in Spain, as I myself have had the chance to experience it first-hand rather than from a classroom in the U.S.

Having that direct contact with native speakers was a great way to gain insight on not only the language, but history and traditions from the country as well. There is only so much a textbook can teach so studying abroad for me has been the easiest and most efficient way to fully immerse myself in another language and culture. For me, going to Spain was truly incredible and it fueled my desires and passion to teach its language and culture.

When I arrived in Spain after my long flight from Atlanta, I was tired and very jet lagged but I was immediately immersed: Spanish was everywhere. Signs, people, airport announcements... everything was in Spanish.

Everyone on the trip waited for our guide to meet us after landing and had the opportunity to interact with each other and people in the airport. My very first experience interreacting in Spanish with one of the locals was there in the airport.

I went to one of the small airport cafés and simply ordered a water. I was nervous and obviously American but successfully ordered a simple bottle of water in Spanish in Spain! I felt like I could take on the world. At least the Spanish-speaking world! While it wasn’t much, it helped boost my confidence in the language and helped me not be so nervous for future interactions. It was a great way to start off the first few hours of my study abroad experience.

I will say it was a little overwhelming but, I began to adjust more and more. I had to realize I literally stepped into another country that speaks a language I have only been learning since high school.

I say this to share it as a tip for those language learners considering studying abroad or have a trip planned in the future: It is okay to feel overwhelmed. As long as you focus and have patience with yourself, you will do amazing.

Learning a language in itself is not easy and studying abroad is even harder but well worth it.

Throughout your trip, do not be afraid to make mistakes in your second language. You are still learning, and you can’t improve without mistakes. That’s one of the reasons that makes learning languages so intriguing: There is always something new to learn.

I am so excited to be able to share my trip and experience with you all. From walking the streets of Toledo to watching El Rey León (The Lion King) on Broadway, I have tons of amazing experiences and stories that I can’t wait to share. Hasta Pronto!

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