Saige participated in the Spanish Summer Immersion Program in 2018. She stayed four weeks in a homestay in La Rioja. In that short time, Saige not only developed her language skills, but also formed a wonderful connection with her host mom that she will cherish for life. Read about her experience!
Why did you choose your program and destination?
I chose to go to La Rioja because it was an opportunity for international study being offered and I had just begun taking introductory Spanish courses. It was an amazing opportunity to not only study abroad, but to immerse myself in the Spanish language and culture, and get a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What was the most memorable experience of your time abroad?
Easily, the best part of the trip was getting to stay with the host family. I was placed with a single mother and her twelve-year-old. At the beginning, I spoke very little (and very poor) Spanish and they spoke very little English. Despite this, the bond I shared with my host mom was one that has, over two years later, continued to be very important and special to me. I remain in regular communication with her and she plans on visiting Canada one day, and I plan to return to visit her regularly.
Were there any challenges? How did you overcome or cope with them?
The biggest challenges, besides a bit of culture shock, was the little language I had going in. I had only taken Intro Spanish I & II, so my language was at an early beginner level, and going into a country with a language you do not understand well is definitely difficult. Everywhere from home with my host family, in restaurants and stores, the bus I took twice daily to and from the University of La Rioja, to my professors at the university, was fully in Spanish.
I made every second of every day a learning experience: I brought a notebook with me everywhere.
When people asked me to teach them some English, I would ask for help with my Spanish in return, and I encouraged people to correct my Spanish when needed. By not only being exposed, but by constantly being open to expanding my language, I was able to increase my Spanish so much that, by the end after only four weeks, I had reached an intermediate level of Spanish and was able to take more advanced courses when I returned.
Has this education abroad experience helped you personally, academically or professionally?
Because of the exposure I had, I was able to reach a level of Spanish that I feel I cannot lose; the immersion and exposure was extremely useful in advancing my language skills. As well, the full exposure to Spanish gave me the skills to speak the language in a unique way by many aspects of it coming directly from experience, rather than being taught in a classroom, and this made a lot of the skills easier to develop and harder to lose. In addition to this experience being a push in me becoming bilingual, a goal I always had for myself and never thought possible, the experience of studying abroad is something that stands out on resumes.
This experience gave me a push out of my comfort zone and I consider it to be one of the best and most fruitful experiences of my life.
What was your experience like when you returned home?
I felt I had a truly special and unique experience, and I was incredibly grateful I had gone on the trip, despite having anxiety about spending so much time away from my home and loved ones. I had a new perspective on stepping out of my comfort zone.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would do nothing differently; this experience was truly one of the most valuable of my life and every part of it was amazing.
Would you recommend trying an education abroad program to other students?
Absolutely-- I highly recommend this for anybody. For anybody considering it that may be similar to me in that you are having doubts or anxiety about this trip because of the travel, the experience, anything, I advise that you do it anyway; I personally had a lot of anxiety about going for a lot of reasons- staying with strangers, not being able to speak the language or communicate, being immersed in a new culture with new customs so far away from my home and comfort zone, but deciding to go despite all of this, stands as one of the best decisions I've ever made. It is 110% worth it.