Why I Decided to Study a Foreign Language Abroad



Surveying the world atop Sant Jeroni

Last summer I was sitting on my bedroom floor, debating whether or not to study abroad.  While scrolling through ISA’s website, one of my best friends from high school called me.  I answered, and before she could say anything I blurted out, “You know what, I think I’m gonna study abroad in Spain to learn Spanish.”  There was a long pause from her end of the phone.

“Lauren, you hated learning Spanish.”  Which was absolutely true.  She had a front row seat to my complaints in high school.  My dislike of Spanish class was less about the language and more about the stress it caused me, but nonetheless it was not the best experience for me.  Now here I am, four years later, traveling to a foreign country trying to relearn a subject I couldn’t see myself continuing in the past. This jump seemed odd to my friend, and even odd to me at first, but one major thing during that four year hiatus changed: my intentions for learning the language.

In high school, I quit after three years.  I had no reason to learn Spanish outside of “I’m required to take a foreign language for at least two years” and the advice that “It’ll look good on college applications if you do three.”  So, after three years I was out. However, once I began college and began to discover more and more of the person I would like to become, I truly saw the value of learning a foreign language.  One of my main goals in life is to help people and I’ve discovered that I can help more people the more languages I speak. Not only that, but I can connect with others on a deeper level if I speak their native tongue rather than my own.

I was given a really good example of this while volunteering one day.  I volunteer at a foster home here in Spain, and one of the girls was having a rough day.  I wasn’t able to understand her problems when she spoke to me in Spanish, so she tried to explain it to me in English.  This worked well enough, but there was definitely some information lost in translation. I remember sitting next to her, wishing I knew more Spanish in order to comfort her better.  However, as much as it stunk in the moment that I didn’t have a high enough language ability, it was a good reminder as to why I started in the first place. One day, when I am proficient, I won’t need to rely on broken Spanish or English. I will be able to truly understand another person without losing key details in the process.  Traveling to a foreign country is only the first step of many for me to reach this goal.

Lauren Ahern is a student at Eastern Michigan University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Bilbao, Spain.

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