Language and Culture Commitment
Committing to becoming a part of a different language and culture is a very personal decision. Signing up for a study abroad program is the easy part; it is when you actually land in a foreign country that the hard part begins. What does it take to really fit in while you are abroad? Even more importantly, how does it work and what will the consequences be?
PRESHCO is known for its commitment to facilitating students’ integration into Spanish society. However, once the opportunities are made available, you then must take the initiative on a more personal level. Here are our suggestions for making the most of your semester (or year) in Córdoba:
- Use your Spanish...no, we mean, REALLY USE SPANISH! All of the time! With everybody, including other PRESHCO students. Make it a habit. We know, it might feel ridiculous at first, but just think of it this way...EVERY SINGLE MINUTE THAT YOU REVERT TO SPEAKING (LISTENING, READING, WRITING) ENGLISH IS A MINUTE THAT YOU LOSE. Switching back and forth between two languages (called code-switching) is a great skill to have, but while you are abroad, it is best to leave your English packed in your suitcase in your closet. Oh, and by the way, using your Spanish and spending time with Spaniards is also your best ticket to being safe in Spain. Going “native” means that you stand out less and are surrounded by people who can guide you to being safe. Choose your friends wisely!
- Make Spanish friends. LOTS OF THEM! Spaniards are very gregarious, and will include you in everything they do. But YOU must be the one to make the first move...and the second...and the third. Once you are part of a group, you will be a part of that group forever. Really forever...even when you return to campus after study abroad. I know Americans who come back to Spain years after study abroad and pick right up with their Spanish friendships as if no time had passed. Spanish friendships are like that...but you have to work fast if you want this to happen in a mere semester. Oh..and by the way, make friends of all ages. You will learn so much more if you also spend time with children and people who are older than you.
- Plan your time well. You will have classes and excursions and travel outside of Spain that will take up much of your time. But what you do with the rest of your time is critical. Find things to do that will bring you in contact with Spaniards. Take up a new hobby (fencing, another language, knitting, carpentry...anything). Get involved with a group (volunteer work, activism, sustainable activities, etc.). Sign up for an internship, even if the work itself isn´t great, use it as a way to spend time with “colegas”. Go out for coffee or an “aperitivo” with them. Spend time with conversation partners from the University of Córdoba. If the first one doesn´t work out, keep trying!
- Observe and imitate. This works on all levels. Be an amateur social anthropologist. What do Spaniards do with their free time? What are their schedules like? What do they eat/drink and when? What do they talk about? What are their politics (or non-politics)? Who likes which soccer team and why? What kind of Spanish language music do they listen to? Then imitate...join in.
- Get informed. Watch television (even the bad programs!) Listen to the radio; get into the habit of listening to the morning talk shows while you are getting ready in the morning. Read newspapers. There are newspapers from different political perspectives. Buy a different paper each day and compare how the news is presented. Above all, talk to people. Spaniards LOVE to express their opinion. After many years of not being able to talk about the important things in life, they make up for it by talking all of the time about everything! Don´t be afraid to have discussions. Jump right in! Your vocabulary will improve and you will learn a lot about pragmatics (who talks when, how to take turns, how to interrupt and be interrupted, how to argue, make a point, etc.)
- Eat, drink, and be merry (safely!) This is the easiest thing to do in Spain, and it will be how you integrate the best. Become a “foodie” and try everything. Even if you have specific preferences or needs, Spanish cuisine provides for a diverse eating community. Drink to enjoy, and not just alcohol. Tasting wines, special liqueurs, locally brewed beer, but also softer drinks are a way to spend time with Spaniards. Spending time in bars is acceptable any time of day, with family, friends, or acquaintances. Most Spaniards have a mid-morning coffee, before-lunch aperitif, lunch, after-lunch coffee, pre-dinner drink at a bar/restaurant every day! Join the crowd (safely and with moderation, of course)!
So, in a nutshell, find your niche in Spain. There is nothing worse than coming to the end of your time abroad regretting having spent more time speaking English than Spanish, or not having made Spanish friends. If you have difficulties finding your path in Spain, talk to the PRESHCO staff. We want to help! We can help!