Thinking, Speaking, Breathing Spanish
I went abroad determined to become fluent in Spanish, which I had been studying for seven years. I had previously traveled to Chile and Costa Rica for short educational or internship trips, where I was able to blend my study of biology with my love of Spanish, but I had yet to truly cement my proficiency in the language.
In Sevilla, I limited my English-language interactions (with my parents, applying for graduate school, talking to friends from home, and so on) to one day per week, so that I could truly immerse myself in the language. This meant I was spending most of my time chatting with my host parents, making friends in my classes, or participating in my community engagement—all in Spanish.
Throughout my semester I laughed, cried, and even fell in love in my new language!
More than anything specific I learned in my university classes, I learned so much from my friends and host family in Spain. My increased linguistic ability opened up new channels for me to learn about fundamental human truths: how we interact with one another and how that changes between cultures, how language and culture are so closely tied that you can't truly understand one without the other, and how to understand your own emotions in a different language. Throughout my semester I laughed, cried, and even fell in love in my new language!
I had never thought I would be able to live abroad for more than a few months, because I thought I would never get used to a new language and culture enough to feel like I was at home. However, after only a short time in Sevilla, I didn't want to leave. Now I’m considering ways to combine my career in the biological sciences with living in Spain. I'm interested in potentially spending a few years after my PhD working in the bioinformatics industry in Spain.
After only a short time in Sevilla, I didn't want to leave. Now I’m considering ways to combine my career in the biological sciences with living in Spain.
I've changed in many ways. Some of the most obvious are that I’ve become much more independent, more capable of managing my stress and anxiety, and that I can now speak a second language.
But something that keeps presenting itself in my life since I returned from being abroad is the emotional link I now have with the Spanish language. Previously, Spanish words were just more words to me. When I said things in Spanish that would have had emotional meaning in English, like “I love you,” it didn't feel like I was saying anything particularly serious.
Sometimes the only way I can think to express how I feel is in Spanish.
After four months of creating a life in this language and having genuinely important developmental experiences by myself and with others while thinking, speaking, and breathing this language, there are now things that seem empty to say in English, which are full and rich with emotion in Spanish. I sometimes even find myself wanting to speak Spanish to a friend or a loved one who doesn’t speak it, because sometimes the only way I can think to express how I feel is in Spanish.