Q&A: Most Embarrassing Story from Abroad

We asked and you answered! In our last installment of Q&A, we asked,

What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you abroad?

When you’re exposed to a new culture, you encounter vast new opportunities to totally humiliate yourself. Moments like when you mistook the world l’amour (love) for the word la mort (death) in a key conversation with your host family make for great stories, and more importantly, allow you to laugh and remember that life doesn’t have to be so serious.


Here are some great stories from ISA students and alumni:

1. I really wanted to make my host family tacos to give them a small taste of Texas cuisine. I explained to her what a taco was and she kept giggling at me. She tried to tell me (only in Spanish) what ‘taco’ meant in Sevilla slang. I had no idea what she was trying to say, so I made the tacos anyway. I found out weeks later that ‘tacos’ translated to ‘cuss words’ for the locals. We had a good laugh when I told her I finally learned the real Sevilla definition!

-Allison Bock, Sevilla, Spain, Spring 2015

2. One of my most embarrassing stories was when I tried to use the slang in Australia! After being abroad for a month I thought I had become accustomed to the slang and could try it out. I was wrong. The word I used was arvo, which means “afternoon” in Australian slang, but I thought it meant “after.” So I was having a conversation with an Australian and threw “arvo” in. They paused for a second and then laughed. Looking back on it, it was really funny but embarrassing at the time.

-Lauren Arakawa, Gold Coast, Australia, Spring 2015 Video Blogger

3. In February 2009 I participated in an intensive month of Spanish in Valparaiso, Chile through ISA. After my intensive month I was scheduled to go to Lima, Peru for my spring semester. I had the time of my life in Valparaiso and was considering changing my semester program to stay in Chile. After many frantic e-mails back and forth with Rachel Rogers, I decided I would stick with my original plan and go to Lima–and I’m really glad that I did. My last day in Chile I was sobbing and trying to pull myself together to exchange gifts with my host family. My host mother gave me this beautiful ring made out of a blue stone that can only be found in Chile… and Afghanistan. I was overcome with emotion.
What I wanted to tell her was, “Thank you so much for this ring, it’s so beautiful” or “Gracias por este anillo, es hermoso.”

What I ended up saying was “Gracias por este ano, es hermoso” or “Thank you so much for this anus, it’s so beautiful.”

Note to self: anillo ≠ ano

-Nicole Salerno, ISA Program Manager, Service-Learning in Chile and Dominican Republic
(Valparaiso, Chile and Lima, Peru, Spring 2009 Alum)

4. My most embarrassing moment was when I decided to take my first weekend trip with about 25 other ISA students to London. One day we went to Borough Market to get some yummy tastes for the day, however, I ended up getting quite the opposite when I accidentally threw a handful of the “sample” olives in my mouth… only to find out they were the pits of already chewed ones!! My friends and I burst out laughing and the stand owner even gave me a free tin of them out of sympathy! I’d say the laughs were worth it.

-Danielle Robertson, Barcelona, Spain, Spring 2013

5. My most embarrassing moment in Florence happened on my way back from Spring Break. It was right around dinner time, 9 pm or so, and we were approaching my square which was full of people eating at the restaurants and sitting on the steps of the church. There was a chain put up to block cars from driving through, and I decided to be lazy and step over it instead of go around it. My depth perception was off a bit and I tripped on the chain and fell face first onto the cobble stone. I heard one woman yell “Is she okay? Oh, oh she’s laughing I think she’s okay.” Then when I stood up, one man was yelling “Do it again! Do it again!”

I laughed it off and told myself it was okay because none of those people knew me and would probably never see me again, but a few minutes later my roommate got home and took one look at me before she started laughing hysterically. She was eating at one of the restaurants and saw the whole thing.

I think tripping and falling is never not embarrassing.

-Megan Griffith, Florence, Italy, Spring 2015

6. On the third day of my study abroad semester, after our orientation excursion, I was introduced to my host family. I was very happy, excited, interested, enthusiastic, and wide-eyed as they toured me around the house for the first time. Only problem was, I was having a very hard time expressing ANY of these feelings.

Think, Kevin, think…I am happy. I can say that… Estoy ummm cansado? I think that’s it!

Kevin “Estoy cansado!
Madre “Estas cansado?
Kevin ” Si, estoy super cansado!
Madre “Ah okay, no te preocupes, no tienes que cenar con nosotros. Acuestate en la cama y duerme hijo.”

Kevin “….

Similar conversations continue. I take a shower before dinner, trying to think about the conversation and understand why I THINK she kept telling me to go to bed. Estoy cansado, that’s all I said.

Happy…another word for happy…content…oh no, contento! Not cansado!! (cansado=tired in Spanish)

I ended up having dinner with the family that night, not exactly explaining my mistake but I did say contento from then on.

– Kevin McCloskey, ISA Director of Student Outreach, and Xalapa, Fall 2008 Alum

7. On our first day in Seville, Spain our advisors were giving our program a tour of the city. When we arrived in El Centro and were walking around the cathedral I was approached by an older looking woman. She took my hand and started blessing me making me fall back from the group. After a minute my entire program was staring at me while I was being completely dooped by a Gypsie woman. She handed me a rosemary sprig and demanded 2 euro. Everyone laughed and I walked away 2 euro less, and a prime example of why you should avoid obliging strangers on the street.

-Elizabeth Healy, Sevilla, Spain, Spring 2015

8. The first month in Rome I got on a random bus because I was lost in the city center. Getting on the bus, I tried to speak to the bus driver asking him where we were heading to and of course he didn’t understand me and other people around started laughing as did the bus driver. At that moment I was so embarrassed because of the fact that I still hadn’t even learned how to ask directions in Italian. I ended up staying on the bus hoping the bus driver would make a whole loop leaving me back into the same stop I had gotten on at the beginning. Turns out we started heading out of the city into the outskirts.

I eventually decided to get off the bus and just walk home thankfully having google maps it said that it was about a 45 min walk . Walking home I discovered the cutest pastry shop about 10 min walk away from my place.

Sitting there at the cute pastry shop I contemplated that if I would’ve never gotten lost I would have never found this place. Besides embarrassing myself with everyone that was on the bus and the bus driver it came out to be a happy ending with pastries.

-Angela Esquerra, Rome, Italy, Spring 2015

9. The one thing I definitely remember saying during my time in Spain was constantly repeating that “I live with my señora” which I thought meant “host-mom” in Spanish. One day when I went to the Intercambio program (a program that helps you improve on your Spanish), one of the locals who is part of the program asked me “Who do you live with?” in Spanish. I responded “I live with my señora” in Spanish and the guy looked shocked but confused. He followed up by saying “So you live with your wife?” in English and I felt a little embarrassed that I was saying the wrong thing the whole time. Moral of the story is to keep a pocket dictionary/translator with you when you’re having conversations with foreign locals.

-Ian Danquah, Madrid, Spain, Summer 2014

10. It was my first week in Reading, and I was in the town centre with some friends. We hadn’t quite gotten used to the public transportation in Reading just yet, so when the next bus came, we thought we’d ask the driver for help. Turns out, the driver was NOT helpful. He told us to look at the timetable behind us for answers. We took his advice, realized we needed his bus, and then turned around to see him zooming off in the distance. And then, in traditional English fashion, it started to rain. And we hadn’t brought our umbrellas.

-Logan Heggeman, Reading, England, Spring 2014

11. So it was my second day in my internship and I was using a computer to create my lesson plans for the English Class I was going to teach. I went to my boss to ask for a charger. Well, since it was the first week of being in Costa Rica, my Spanish was not up to par. I told my boss I need the charger, at least that is what I thought I told her. She looked at me confused and burst out laughing. I was confused and she just kept laughing and I did not understand why. I didn’t realize what I actually said until I was telling my friend the story and he proceeded to tell me that I told her, in lighter words “I needed to take a (you know what),” when in reality I was just trying to ask for a computer charger. I said “Necesito cargar” but without the “r”. Needless to say, I will never forget the look on my bosses face and how red it got while being completely confused as to why she was so red.

-Kendra Ansotigue, Salamanca, Spain Fall 2012 and Service-Learning in San Jose, Costa Rica, Spring 2015

12. My Italian class went to a market to learn the names of foods. When my friend and I couldn’t figure out what one of the pictures was (we thought it was pig’s feet – it was actually a potato), we asked for help from a meat vendor. I confidently announced the word he had told us to my class, and my teacher was instantly horrified. The man at the market had given us an explicit word and not only did we believe him, we repeated it back to him (not quietly, and several times) in the market, made an effort to spell it right, and shared it with our whole class.

Apparently word got around, too – several weeks later I mentioned to a housemate that I’d had an embarrassing moment at the market. Not realizing it was me, she said it couldn’t be worse than the girl who accidentally learned a bad word from a vendor and used it as an answer in front of her class. Oops.

-Amy Scheel, Florence, Italy, Spring 2015

For next week, we are excited to ask:

What was your most amazing adventure while abroad?

IMG_2322When was “the moment” when everything coalesced and you felt the most alive you have ever felt? What weekend trips should students who study abroad after you ABSOLUTELY go on? What was the adventure that made your experience for you? Comment below, on the ISA Facebook page, or email your 50-100 word answer to blog@studiesabroad.com. Any ISA student or alum is welcome to contribute!

Significantly improve your selfie game by studying abroad. Find out more info here.

Leave a Reply