Only a week and a half left here. You have no idea how scary and exciting that is at the same time. I´m counting down the days until I see my family again, but at the same time I´m drinking in this beautiful city, wondering why on earth I thought six weeks would be long enough. Six weeks away from my family–long enough. Six weeks to master Spanish and explore everything Spain has to offer? Not even close. You´ll miss things when you study abroad. Your family. Your friends. Your dog. Popcorn. Peanut butter. Your dad´s steaks. Your mom´s brownies. Your brother´s energy. Your sister´s stories. You are also going to lose things when you go, not just tangible things like a left sock or the anklet your sister made you, but intangible things as well. For example, I lost my storytelling abilities in Spain. Telling my host mom about the time I upended an entire fishtank and dresser loses a lot of its humor (no, really) when I have to pause after every sentence and think, “Now how do I say this in Spanish?” Stories that I could easily recite in my sleep are now filled with pauses and a much simpler vocabulary. I also lost some of my sense of humor. I don´t laugh at things nearly as much as I would at home, simply because I still don´t understand every single word that people say to me. (But I definitely understand more now than I did when I first arrived in Spain.) My roommate and I found a joke book in a book shop and said, “I don´t get it” after every joke we read. That´s another thing you´ll lose too: your sense of feeling smart. Believe me, it´s really frustrating when your teacher or host mom has to repeat something three times and all you can give them in return is a blank, uncomprehending stare. There will be days on your trip when you will feel dumb. For example, I like to think my grammar is really good. One day in my grammar class, we wrote a short composition describing our host family´s house. Simple, right? I thought so too until I received my paper and it was covered with red marks. I´ve developed a huge amount of respect for any immigrant or refugee who has ever had to learn a new language without first receiving the amount of schooling I´ve had. Until you lived in a place where the people speak a different language, you have no idea just how difficult it truly is. Honestly, though, that´s just part of the learning experience. You acknowledge what you did wrong and figure out how to do it right. Even more frustrating than not understanding is other people thinking you don´t understand when you actually do. Some people will speak more slowly, placing gargantuan pauses between each word. Others, like my host mom, will act out what they´re saying. Just the other day she acted out the word “nadar” (to swim), a word I learned in my first year of Spanish. Other people, especially those working in tourist destinations like Madrid or Valencia, will switch over to English the minute you say, “¿Qué?” (What?). I have found some ways to combat this, though, and to show people that I understand more than they realize. Tip #1: If you missed a word and you don´t want people to repeat the entire story or repeat the question much…more…slowly, try to repeat as much of what you understood back to them. For example, if someone tells you, “Voy a la pandería” (I´m going to the bakery), and you missed or didn´t understand the last word, just ask, “¿Adónde vas?” (Where are you going?). Or simply ask what the word means. That´s another thing you´ll learn here. Tip #2: Ask questions. As silly as it may feel pointing to an everyday object like an outlet and saying, “What´s this called?” that´s how you learn. But to avoid people dumbing things down for you, say what you understand and what you specifically don´t understand. During the explanation, you may have to say things like, “Sí, entiendo esto” (Yes, I understand that), so people don´t feel the urge to explain the same thing seven different ways. People here don´t want to make you feel stupid; they just have no way of knowing what you already know. They´re not mind readers. Tip #3: Pretend you´re hard of hearing. (As my family already knows, this one is really easy for me!) If people think you simply didn´t hear them, they´ll only repeat what they just said, without slowing down or switching to English. “No te oyé” (I didn´t hear you) has become one of my most-used phrases here and actually happens to be the case 90% of the time. All that said, you will gain so much when you study abroad. First, you will realize that you know a lot more (and a lot less) of the language than you give yourself credit for. And you will learn so much when you´re there, from your teachers, host families, tour guides, street signs, price tags, movies, news programs, sweet shops, and more. You´ll pick up terms of endearment, slang, idioms,  swear words, and insults. You´ll even find that some of the things you learned in high school aren´t even used where you study. But the most important thing you´ll learn is that your life (your language, habits, beliefs, etc.) is not universal. Even the smallest things are not universal. For example, in my host mom´s house, I only drink milk for breakfast. I drink water for the rest of my meals. When I told my host mom what I do in the States, she couldn´t seem to wrap her head around the fact that I drink cold milk (most people heat it up here) for all three meals and never have stomach problems. On Sunday I helped her mow the lawn and learned that you can buy lawnmowers that plug into an outlet like a vacuum cleaner. It´s a rewarding feeling when you have the chance of broadening your horizons, when you can see for yourself how the world truly is bigger than your own backyard. I feel honored to be able to say, “I tried this. I saw that. I lived there.”

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