“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been waiting to study abroad since my first year at Keene State College. When the time finally arrived, I was a senior ready to escape Keene. Feeling done with everything– my job, academics, people, food, everything–I was eager to buy a one-way plane ticket out. Once I finally chose my program, I got a lot of criticism. “You’re doing this program alone? Aren’t you afraid?” And at the time I wasn’t; I wanted to travel alone. I wanted to see what Ecuador would be like and get my own taste for the country.
I’d often been told by others that forgetting every word of Spanish I knew was typical during the first day abroad, and boy were they right. I was standing in line waiting to check my luggage when a bald man started speaking Spanish to me and my mother.
My mother said, “Not me, she’s the one who speaks Spanish.” He looked at me and started speaking again and I instantly started crying. I stepped aside and my mother tried to calm me down, but all I could think about was how the time was finally here to live in a different country for four months and I could not be any less prepared.
I felt like my past four years studying Spanish at KSC were a waste, I could barely remember how to say hello. Thankfully, I flew during the night, so I had the chance to catch my breath, stop crying, and rest my eyes before I met my host mother.
It was 5:30 a.m. when I met my host mother. I knew instantly who she was. Forgetting all rules of personal space, I immediately went in for a hug. Thankfully, she hugged me back and the hour car ride home began.
I don’t know when my brain switched from English to Spanish, but I thank the Spanish Gods made the switch. I spoke Spanish the entire car ride home. During this time and any and all future encounters with native speakers I finally understood what my professor was talking about in class.
He always told we won’t know the correct word to use to describe what we are trying to say when we studeid abroad.
wwIt is at this time when we will have to rely on our basic knowledge of Spanish to try and describe the word we are really looking for. I feel like I’ve never said so much while at the same time saying so little. It’s fun though. My maid, Adrianna, always laughs at my poor use of Spanish. But at the same time, she respects me for trying.
For example, I had a hotdog for breakfast today (it’s a thing in Ecuador) and I said “Me gustan perros calientes” which is the literal translation for “I like hot dogs.” She laughed, turned to me and said “Es una salchicha señorita.”
And luckily for me, everyone in Ecuador is just as nice as Adrianna. They let you work through what you are thinking or allow you to describe a word through body motions. They don’t interrupt you and they don’t laugh at you. They truly respect you for trying to learn their language. And they understand how hard of a language it is to learn.
And due to Ecuadoreans friendliness, I feel more comfortable talking. I don’t speak English to street vendors, my teachers or security guards. I always practice my Spanish: even if it is as small as “Buenas dias” or as big as arguing about the American dream and why our government needs to start supporting it’s people instead of keeping them from climbing the socioeconomic ladder (boy was I amazed when I said all of that in Spanish).
And I think that’s the best gift of all. Sure, traveling is great. Being able to see a different country with people from all different parts of the world is a wonderful gift, but being able to share a language with a different group of people is an even better gift. By learning Spanish, I now have the ability to communicate with more people. I have the chance to make more connections and learn their stories. I have the opportunity to travel more. And not just to a travel resort in Costa Rica but to an indigenous town in the rain forest of Ecuador.
I can learn more about their culture and start to truly appreciate the way they look at life. And I’ve opened so many new doors for job opportunities as well. I’ve already been told my application was put on top due to my conversational knowledge of Spanish.
But I think the most important thing I’m learning while in Ecuador is how to quickly adapt in a foreign country and take advantage of every moment I can.
I’ve had to learn how to take public transportation to school every day. I have to accept the fact that I will be catcalled every day, multiple times a day. I’ve had to try new foods, most of which I don’t know what they are. I’ve had to adapt to altitude sickness. I’ve learned that no price is a set price. With a little bit of bargaining, every handcrafted gift becomes five dollars cheaper.
My advice to anyone thinking about studying abroad: do it. Go travel. Go find adventure. Go find new things, talk to the locals, taste all of the foods that aren’t available in the United States, go on a hike, find a local bar and grab a drink. Life is too short to wait for someone to travel with you and stay inside your comfort zone. You may never have the same opportunity again, so, as the Ecuadoreans would say, “Ama la Vida.”
Jessica L’Hommedieu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org