It’s been about two weeks since I arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia to study Spanish with around 17 other students from the University of Alabama at Universidad del Norte or UniNorte. Since arriving, I’ve experienced a lot of different emotions. When I first got here I was excited to learn about another culture and learn Spanish, but I quickly realized it was going to be harder than I expected. I speak in Spanish over 90% of the time. At school, with other students, and with my host family. The first few days were the hardest as I adjusted to barely understanding what others were saying and not being able to communicate the entirety of my thoughts. Even now, I still struggle with understanding native Spanish speakers but I’ve also gained more motivation to learn. At times it feels like my language skills haven’t improved at all, but the other day I finished talking to someone in Spanish for over an hour and realized that I’m doing it, flaws and all. It’s been a humbling experience to be in a country where your language isn’t the main language spoken, but I’ll leave this trip with a greater respect and understanding for anyone trying to learn a new language and living in a place where they don’t speak the language.
The newness of the experience is starting to wear off as I become settled in and start to learn my way around. I feel a sense of familiarity on campus and when navigating the city that I didn’t have at first. I’ve learned a bit about the culture, but I know there’s still so much more to learn and only so much that I can truly understand. Part of immersing yourself into a new culture and a different language is so that you can really understand what it’s like to be there. The language has been the hardest part of it all, but in the end I think it will be the most valuable aspect of the entire experience.