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Class Is Not Dismissed: Studying Abroad

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Ascending the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Colosseum, hiking Kilimanjaro or the Appalachian Trail, embarking on a safari, sighting exotic animals in the rainforest, tasting authentic foods –these popular activities will often be cited as the bucket list items for travelers. Rarely does simply studying and living among the locals make that list. It may seem a loss that those studying abroad, instead of exploring a new country, stay largely in one area, doing schoolwork. However, even in transit to class, sitting in on lectures, or while buying groceries for the week, a whole new world is opened up to the traveler. Both linguistically and culturally unfamiliar customs are presented once, then again. Daily occurrences make repeated imprints on one’s mind, and soon they are cemented, memorized. New practices become routine, and daunting tasks like giving directions or are made feasible by immersion.

Spain made a lasting impression on former LM tutor Cana Robbins. "The majority of my study abroad was spent in the beautiful old city of Barcelona. Even though I was in Spain for a short time, I will never forget the opportunities I had there: I learned how to use public transportation, dropped into hole-in-the-wall cafes with friends all around the city, visited famous art museums, worked with lively and involved Spanish-speaking professors, and even joined my university’s volleyball team. My Spanish-speaking abilities improved dramatically as I lived amongst Spaniards and drank in everything I could: what they ate, how they walked and talked, how they spent their time, and even how they chose their clothes. When I speak Spanish now, my family can tell that a little piece of the Spanish accent has stayed with me. I’m hoping that it will remain —it is my favorite souvenir, symbolic of the little place Spain will always hold in my heart!"

Another encounter with Spain similarly impacted Stacy Frazier, a university professor. "I was privileged to study abroad during spring of my junior year in Madrid, Spain at the International Institute, with students from all over the world. First, I lived with a wonderful family – a single mother and her young daughter and son. I enjoyed practicing my Spanish language most with the kids while we watched cartoons altogether – the children were so patient and kind, I could ask lots of questions without feeling any embarrassment about my many mistakes as I tried to grow more proficient! Second, my host family prepared Sunday meals for her large extended family every week – huge platters of paella, it was amazing (although I wish I’d never seen the large amount of lard she used!). Third, siestas – Spain has got the workday figured out with afternoon siestas! I fully embraced their emphasis on wellness; Spain is where I learned that rest is productive, and that long, leisurely meals even during hectic work and school days should be enjoyed with family and friends. Fourth, the stores – nondescript, no company names, just “farmacia” or “zapatos”. There was less of an obvious capitalist presence because of it (or at least that’s how I experienced it at the time). Fifth, my classes were amazing – I learned so much about Spanish history and read so much Spanish literature. It was my third time reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote, still my absolute favorite novel, but I understood its meaning and message differently while living in Spain.

I think traveling outside of Madrid, and seeing the rest of the beautiful country, was probably my favorite part of study abroad. Spain’s northern autonomous region (Catalonia) is entirely different from its southern autonomous region (Andalusia) – including big differences in language, architecture, narratives, history, food, festivals, and more. I loved both of them, especially Barcelona in the north and Córdoba in the south (my single favorite place in Spain!). (Walking el Camino de Santiago is still at the top of my bucket list.) I think what’s important here though is that Spain turned out to be so much more diverse than I knew before traveling and studying there – and it’s Spain’s diversity that made it feel so rich and beautiful.

Zoe Marsh, one of our French tutors, is currently overseas in Dijon, France. “My time studying abroad in Dijon, France has been an extremely enlightening and humbling experience. I have learned a lot about myself as a student, but most importantly as a person. Reevaluating my perfectionist tendencies and accepting the fact that I am here

Zoe Marsh --French Tutor

to learn and allowed --even expected-- to make mistakes, I have learned to give myself grace. Already I have stepped out of my comfort zone by attending cultural events by myself and going out to eat alone. I have had hour-long conversations with locals, and interacting with them has been one of my favorite parts of studying here. Academically speaking, all of my previous French instruction was vital in shaping me into the French speaker that I am today. My French skills have definitely grown in the past month, and I catch myself even forgetting English words sometimes, which feels so strange yet satisfying! After having a strong foundation, I am able to expound upon my knowledge and apply my skills practically in day-to-day life. I have experienced so much joy communicating with others from all over the world, and I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity.”

Jennifer Ryan, homeschooling mom, remembers her years preparing to be a missionary. “Immersing myself in Spanish in Costa Rica made me more humble and more aware of how much I had to learn. I felt like a child at every turn, knowing that my speech sounded babyish and was oftentimes wrong. It stripped me of any arrogance I might have had intellectually. Trying to communicate with a grocery store clerk or a neighbor was embarrassing and frustrating. There was always a fear that because of my lack of understanding, they would take advantage of me, which did happen at times.

"I remember the shock on our children's faces when a grocery store cashier shorted us $20. They were too unsure to protest. This emboldened us. There was a profound sense of accomplishment as we mastered simple tasks like going to the farmer's market and bargaining for a better price. It wasn't just linguistic ability we were gaining; it was an awareness of how one lived within that culture. If you hear a price at a mango stand that is too high, you walk away and pretend that you are not interested to show that you understand how this micro-economy works. Then, when you pass by again, they will probably offer you a lower price.

"There are significant benefits to immersive language learning. If you really want to know how to interact in a culture, listen and act like the local folks. How do they order meat? How do they show disbelief? How do they express uncertainty? How do they call for a taxi/motoconcho? In real life, in real time, the words used will vary greatly from a textbook. If you can master the colloquialisms or everyday ways that people interact, you show honor and knowledge of the culture, and people often respond to you more favorably. In turn, when you feel more comfortable, you speak more readily, are open to correction, and progress in your language acquisition more quickly.”

John Frazier, Associate Professor, Sr. of Art History at Miami Dade College, was blown away by a culture in Africa. "In 1992 when I arrived bright-eyed in Nigeria, west Africa with my college study group, I couldn’t wait for the adventure. I had a naïve, White savior mindset – I was going where I thought people needed my help. I was truly clueless. My impression of Africa was of a poor, rural place full of hunting, fishing, farming and masquerading, people living alongside animals on the savannah – a Disney-ized version of Africa. I was clueless as to the complexities of this vast region of 3000+ ethnicities and languages. I struggled with the local tonal language Igbo which is only spoken by 15 million people in the world. I joined the university basketball team, and my teammates nicknamed me “onye oche” (which means white man). Only at the end of my travels did I learn that “onye oche” really means white man with skin leprosy!!! Ah … it’s good to have friends, isn’t it?

"Nigeria, my favorite country that I have ever visited, challenged my understanding of the world and transformed me into the human that I have become. My best friend Chukwu taught me that deep down everyone in the world wants the same things—love, encouragement, good governance, safety, friendship and the ability to contribute. I left Nigeria, changed my major from chemistry to African Studies, and am now a college professor whose top priority is empowering students to study in another country—the experience can be life-changing and life-affirming."

"Life changing and life affirming." Studying abroad focuses our attention and wonder on aspects of a country that might seem mundane, compared to great works of architecture or history sites. However, the language, mannerisms, and habits of the living, breathing people who mill around such foreign attractions will be found to be infinitely more intriguing and enlightening.

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This is really neat. The guest comments opened my eyes to lots of things to consider when travelling abroad. Thanks.

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