What Does 4 Months Of Change Look Like?

API Student Blogger: Katie H.
API Program: Barcelona, Spain: International Studies Semester Program

So today in the street a guy who was lost stopped me on the way home and asked me for directions, all in Spanish. Without even thinking, I knew exactly what he was asking, and answered him right away in Spanish where the FGC train (which he was looking for) was. It made me smile and be proud of myself for being able to do it… as simple as it was, 4 months ago I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand him so well, and answer so quickly. So that got me thinking about what has changed about me in 4 months during my exchange here in Spain.

My Language Abilities
First of all my Spanish has improved leaps and bounds. Living with a host family was probably the best decision I made before coming to Barcelona. My host mother and father dont speak English so I have no choice but to communicate them in Spanish, which is great practice, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to do an exchange who wants to improve their language skills immensely. At times it can be frustrating if you don’t know how to quite communicate something to your host parents, or if you’re really tired it’s hard to concentrate and speak in another language. But at the end of the day, you have to push yourself to improve your language skills. My international business professor said something that really stuck with me over my exchange here “Learning another language is a lot like learning how to swim, you’re never going to learn if you just dip your toes in, you have to immerse yourself by jumping into the deep end”. And it’s so true… to learn a language you have to be really outgoing, confident and not afraid to make mistakes, because you’re going to make them along the way but it’s the only way you’ll learn. It’s so important to be constantly challenging yourself to learn, and push yourself outside your comfort zone, or else you won’t improve. Besides living with a host family some other great ways to improve your language abilities are:

1) Finding a language partner – great way to practice your language you are learning and help out another person improve theirs. My language partners (I had more than one) were around the same age as I was so we had lots in common which sparked lots of conversation.
2) Listening to music in the language you are learning – I love music from all kinds of genres and countries, so Im always looking for songs to add to my itunes. Having music in other languages can help you learn rhythm of different words, new phrases or slang, vocabulary, and even new dances. (eg. i love salsa music, and love to salsa)
3) Reading newspaper articles – helps you keep up with current issues and can help you learn new vocabulary
4) Talking with/meeting locals – whether this is asking directions, giving directions, ordering food in a cafe/restaurant, or meeting people in bars. The more you step out your comfort zone and are unafraid to talk to and meet new people, the more people you will be able to communicate with. Sure you’re Spanish may suck at first but practice makes perfect, and you’ll make new friends along the way. 🙂
5) Dating a local – one of the best ways I learned new words/phrases/slang, and also allowed me to ask questions I was too shy to ask my professor, or host parents on certain words, rules etc. Plus it was a lot of fun and great practice, I only spoke Spanish to him, and he only spoke English to me. If i ever got lazy and switched to English he would call me out on it, and tell me to switch back to Spanish. If I made mistakes he would also correct me, another great way to learn and improve 🙂

My Knowledge of Barcelona & Spain in General
When I first came to Barcelona I remember thinking, “oh my god, how am I ever going to navigate through this city”, and now I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand, and for this reason I am able to help other people in this city who are lost (case in point, the guy today who asked me for directions). Ive been asked several times while on exchange by Spanish people where certain things are in the city…which I am impressed by myself because:

1) I know where to direct them, and

2) I can effectively communicate it to them in Spanish
Even when I take the metro now, I dont even look at the maps or signs for which line to take because Ive taken it so many times out of routine I just know where to go. I know what end of the track to be on, to get to where I need to go quicker, I know which places to switch lines the fastest, etc etc. All of these things ive learned over a short period, and when I look back at my first days in Barcelona I thought I would never master the metro… haha oh how things have changed.
Even my knowledge of Spain in general has increased, with regards to current issues, or its history, and other cities. By talking with locals, or visiting other cities in Spain I was able to obtain a greater understanding of this beautiful country… and may have found a place I want to retire haha.

My Character and Maturity
As an only child who has gone through a lot in 21 years, I think I developed a strong character and maturity at an earlier age than most (my mother can contest to that), but travelling to Europe and living in Spain for the past 4 months, I feel like Ive changed as a person even more. I just feel like I have an even larger global understanding of the world with regards to people, countries, cultures etc. Learning how to live in another country can be tough especially when you are not fluent in the language. Working through culture shock (though I feel it didnt affect me as much as it affected other people), the differences in culture, adjusting to my new life here, travelling to other places, dealing with issues while abroad etc etc all of these things I think have added to my maturity and life experiences. I feel like Ive also learned to cope with things a lot better than I was able to do when living in Canada. Just from everything Ive gone through here personally (good and bad) I feel I have a greater ability to deal with things better and a lot faster, and try not to worry about things so much. Everything works out in the end – remember that. Also, the places Ive travelled to and the people I have met have changed my life for the better. I have made some incredible new friends, and have seen some amazing places while living in Europe. I will always cherish the memories from my time here.

Some Things That Haven’t Changed About Me

1) Im still the happy-go-lucky, outgoing, optimistic person that I am

2) I still have no idea what I want to do after university…. although I do have an incredible desire to live and work abroad, I have no idea what kind of job I want… need to figure out that this summer. yikes.

3) I still have a huge passion for the Spanish language, some people’s opinion on Spain and learning Spanish have changed significantly while being here (either positive or negative because of Spanish classes and their living experiences)…. if anything my exchange fueled my passion even more.

So all in all, I would say my exchange to Spain was one of the best decisions in my life. It was the most incredible experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Whether you want to learn a language, or just experience a new kind of life, going abroad is your ticket there. As sad as I am to leave, I am ready to go home… I dont want to go home but Ive come to terms with it and am ready. I feel like I created a second life here, and dont want that life to end. With this being said I know I will come back to Barcelona some day soon (i drank from the fountain on Las Ramblas so it’s definitely going to happen haha), either to visit, live or work. This city is fantastic, so much fun, and has so much to offer. Barcelona was the greatest city to do my exchange in and Im so lucky to have had this opportunity to live and study abroad. Big thank you to API for giving me this opportunity, and to my mom and friends for all the encouragement and support they gave me before, and during my exchange. <3

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