When I first moved to Madrid as a new freshman, I had two options. First, I could live in a ‘host family’ environment, which allowed better immersion in the culture, or I could live in the university apartments, with multiple other girls. I chose the host family route. I knew my Spanish wasn’t very good, and I wanted to really experience the culture.
I took a basic Spanish class there, and my first day, I knew I was in trouble. My teacher didn’t speak English, and she gave a pre-test to determine how much we knew. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do in most of the sections. As expected, I failed the pre-test, and my teacher took me aside and tried to explain that maybe I should try an even more basic class. That probably would have been a good idea, but occasionally, I get a stubborn streak. I decided to stick with this class.
On my way home, I passed a large park, and I sat on one of the benches next to a fountain and pulled out my scriptures, and started reading out loud, in Spanish, to myself. I stumbled a lot, but I persevered. After two days of reading out loud to myself, a man started to relay the bricks of the sidewalk, and he and I worked side by side until he took a break.
He asked me what I was doing, and in my stumbling Spanish, I explained to him that I needed to practice. He then asked me what I was reading, and we continued our conversation. He was patient with me, and after he left, I realized that I’d carried on a conversation in Spanish. I immersed myself even deeper in the culture, attending church with a Spanish congregation, and religious institute classes with my friends from church.
Over the semester, I noticed a difference. Where most of the students from my university remained in their same circles, speaking English to one another, I forced myself out, making friends with Latinos and Hispanics. By the time midterms came, I got a C on my Spanish test, and I was ecstatic. On all of my homework assignments, I’d been acing them, with the help of my friends from church. I’m proud to say, I aced the final, and passed the class with a B.
|The park where it all started|
By the end of the semester, I was much more confident with my Spanish than most of my other classmates, and I could carry on conversations for hours (which I did, since I was dating a Bolivian at that point!)
The more you immerse yourself in the culture, the easier it is to learn the language, and the customs. And if you’re going to live in a different country, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to really experience the culture for themselves.