My Mediterranean SummerBarcelona, Summer 2012
Before studying abroad, people tell you that there will be a defining moment in your study abroad experience, a moment you realize just how much your experience has helped and changed you. I am writing this now because I just had that experience. It was something small; it might seem insignificant to you. But after today, I don’t think I will be able to look back on my Mediterranean summer the same way again. Today, I translated for a woman in a store.
Now you might say, ‘wait, this isn’t that important…’ But trust me, experiences abroad are not defined by historical moments or epic trips, but by how you are changed during your stay. This experience can be something small, such as being mistaken for a local or even being able to hold a conversation in another language for the first time.
Now, let’s flash back to today. I am standing in the mobile phone store. As I waited in line, I noticed that the woman in front of me was having trouble communicating with the store employee. The employee did not speak English and was attempting to explain – in Spanish – that the woman could not apply her pay-as-you-go minutes to her Internet bill on her iPhone. The language barrier was preventing the employee from clearly explaining the situation and both women seemed to be getting frustrated. When the employee pulled out a piece of paper for a game of “multilingual pictionary,” I decided that maybe it was time for me to try and help.
Few words can describe the anxious feeling you get before trying something radically new for the first time. I mean, before this summer, my spanish was mediocre at best. Countless thoughts run through your head. Am I a good enough speaker to translate for these people? What if I translate incorrectly? What if I make the situation worse? Despite my hesitancy, I spoke up with a ‘¿Necesitáis ayuda?’ The woman asked me if I spoke Spanish (probably because she heard my accent) and gave me a skeptical look. I told her briefly about my studies in Spain. I also said that I am learning, and my Spanish wasn’t perfect, but I would love to help.
Unfortunately, Spaniards speak fast. Regardless, I got the gist of the situation and briefly explained it to the American woman with the iPhone. The woman had 5€ of credit on her pay-as-you-go phone, and wanted to apply her credit to her Internet bill. Unfortunately the cashier explained, this was impossible, as the internet had a monthly bandwidth limit and was a completely seperate plan than the one she had bought. The customer looked disappointed when she discovered it would be another 44€ to add Internet to her international phone, but she seemed thankful for the help.
The whole experience was over in a little less than a minute and my day was no different than any normal day in Spain. But, for some reason, I felt different. I felt like I had made progress. My summer in Spain given me a valuable life tool that I can use in the real world. Until now, my Spanish had not been very developed, but at that moment I realized that my summer in Spain has changed me, broadened my perspective on the world, and taught me how to break cultural barriers.
So for those of you who plan on studying abroad, DO IT. There’s no way to know how you will be changed before you get there, but trust that if you thrust yourselves into the culture and learn along the way, you will be changed. Immersion is a wonderful thing, and my attempts have been fruitful. I have had quite the Spanish summer and I can’t wait to take my new skills back to the United States!
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