by Brandon Schettler | Emory Salamanca Program, Spring 2020
Studying abroad can be many things. Fun? Absolutely. Life-changing? For sure. But always easy? Sorry, but unfortunately there are going to be days when you’re hit with the reminder that you’re thousands of miles away from home, in some cases aren’t speaking your native language, and still have to complete academic classes.
When I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, I became keenly aware of all these things. There were times when I would call my mom and wonder how many days I had left in the semester.
All that being said, the vast majority of my experience was incredible, and one of the activities that helped with this was going to an intercambio (language exchange) with students from La Universidad de Salamanca. Most of my classes were with other international students trying to learn Spanish, so I didn’t have many opportunities to interact with native Spaniards besides my host family.
The intercambio was set up through a mandatory class for all Emory students in Salamanca, which was taught by our wonderful program director, Maica. The goal of that class was to expose us to local culture, so we would go on field trips, excursions, even movies.
I was a bit nervous before the exchange started. My Spanish skills had improved, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle a fluent conversation with locals. What if they couldn’t understand me? What if I made simple errors and they judged me?
But the students who went on that language exchange were some of the nicest people I met abroad. They were also afraid of their English skills being subpar (they actually spoke very fluently). I soon realized we were all in the same boat and, at the end of the day, just wanted to get some practice. There was no judgment whatsoever.
We exchanged numbers afterward and went to a bar. On another night, they gave us a tour of some great nightlife spots. I was thrilled to be hanging out with actual Spaniards and not international students–I felt like my experience was far more complete after that intercambio.
Studying abroad is scary, and practicing conversations with native speakers can seem like one more daunting thing to add to your fears. But studying abroad is all about stepping out of your normal life and being a little uncomfortable.
You’ll go home eventually, and when you do, don’t add regret to your luggage.