Practical Spanish: How a Worst-Case Scenario Taught Me the Real Importance of Language Abroad

Alexis Jensen is a student at the University of Kansas and a former ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Salamanca, Spain.

When I tell people that I have chosen to study language, I’m often confronted with the same question: “Why do you want to learn Spanish?” Normally, my default response is about my love for languages and cultures, a quote from one of the dozens of Ted Talks about how language learning makes you smarter or more culturally aware, and how being bilingual will lead to new adventures and friendships. However, with all of these excellent reasons to learn another language, I have recently learned that speaking more than one language can be vital in navigating not only social interactions, but occasional unexpected obstacles.

Last month I traveled to the Canary Islands. It was absolutely incredible, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve been so far. But on the final day of the trip while bodysurfing the big blue waves on a sparkling black-sand beach nestled at the bottom of a towering cliffside, I was reminded that I am small and fragile in comparison to the mighty ocean. Caught off guard by a rogue wave, I was tossed beneath the tide and slammed against the sandy sea floor. In split second that seemed to stretch out for an eternity, I heard a sharp crack beneath the waves and immerged with my hand clutched against my shoulder, knowing something was very wrong.

Unfortunately, my intuition was right. I was rushed, swimsuit-clad and sandy-haired, to the local hospital where the doctors informed me that I had dislocated my shoulder and broken my clavicle. I spent a long night navigating the numerous differences between the US healthcare system and the Spanish one. Some things surprised me, such as the remarkable affordability of emergency medical treatment; and somethings were the same, such as the frustratingly long wait in the emergency room. But one thing remained decidedly constant, I was glad I spoke Spanish. Between my friends and I, we were able to make the treatment process much more manageable, one always filling in the gaps where the other didn’t understand. While I had been helpless against the ocean tides, being able to communicate my situation to the medical staff gave me a valuable sense of agency for the first time that day.

I made it out of the hospital and to my flight the next morning a little roughed up but feeling better, and relieved that I had managed to make it through the process so smoothly.


Upon my arrival back in Salamanca, the ISA team helped me schedule a surgical consultation, and were with me every single step of the way as I underwent an operation to correct my collar bone. They even handled communications with the insurance company so I did not have to worry. Now I am all stitched up and on the road to recovery and, though I could not have done it without the incredible support of my friends and the ISA Salamanca team, I also learned an important lesson about why language learning really matters, and how far it has taken me since my arrival.

Though I sincerely hope that none of you reading this will ever have to use your second language to navigate a difficult situation like this, having experienced it first-hand I can honestly say that I am more thankful than ever for my second language, and I will never forget where it has taken me.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

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