Koret Fellowship Program
Psychology major, Class of 2018
Last semester, I had the chance to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Overall, my experience studying abroad was a very good one. This fellowship helped fund my time studying abroad. This opportunity was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that cannot be replicated. Being in a foreign country for an extended period of time was something that I had never experienced previously. This was especially true because I had the chance to travel to many other countries in Europe as well during my time abroad.
In the beginning, the most prominent challenge for me was the language barrier. Before going to Spain, I had previously taken only around a year of Spanish. This meant that I could understand some, but I wasn’t quite conversational yet, especially due to my lack of usage of the Spanish I had acquired. Upon arriving in Spain, I first saw the differences between the phrases and accents I had learned versus the ones that were used in Spain. I had the opportunity of living in a homestay, so I had a host mom that only spoke Spanish. This was a great way for me to improve my Spanish; however, it was a struggle in the beginning. We shared two meals a day at our homestay: breakfast and dinner. Although breakfast was quick, dinner was not. It was not uncommon to be at the dining table for 1-2 hours. During this time, our host mom would make small talk and chat about the news, which we watched during dinner. In the beginning, I was very worried and apprehensive about speaking Spanish. However, through my 4 months in Spain, I slowly gained the skills needed to be able to make small talk at the dinner table. By the end of my stay in Spain, I was comfortable with using Spanish for everyday tasks, for example, at a store, at a restaurant, or with other Spaniards. In a way, this was both a challenge and a major success for me. After 4 months, my ability to comprehend Spanish and use it had dramatically improved.
Another major achievement I took away from my study abroad experience was the ability to navigate cross cultural engagements. For the first time, I truly felt what it was like to be the “foreigner.” During my time in Barcelona, as well as my travels to other countries during my time there, I developed skills that made it possible to communicate and interact with people who were from completely different cultures and spoke different languages than I did. I also had the chance to take a cross-cultural psychology class that helped me contextualize my experience. My professor was from Ireland, living in Spain with her husband and children, and had great knowledge about these cross-cultural encounters. I was able to learn it in the classroom then apply it to what I was experiencing in real life. In the beginning, small cultural differences came as a surprise to me. For example, meal times were much longer in Spain, there is not as much of a personal space bubble in public, people tend to gaze and stare without much meaning… etc. After time, I slowly began to understand that there was nothing wrong with these cultural differences, but simply differences that I should be aware of and be able to adjust to when I am in a foreign country. This experience helped me become more flexible and have an easier time communicating across culture. I feel like this is an invaluable component of my experience abroad, it would have never been possible to gain these skills to this extent if I had not gone abroad.
From this experience, I also had the chance to reflect on my future and career choices. I feel like my experiences and skills I have acquired abroad will help me in my future job. I hope to be able to integrate these skills into my life in the future. Specifically, I definitely want to study more Spanish in the future and be able to use this in my job and everyday life.