2017 Fall Ecuador External Programs IES Abroad Kathleen McCarrick

Staying Present During Study Abroad

I have been in Quito, Ecuador for more than 2 months; the longest I’d ever been out of the United States had been three weeks. The moment I’d been here longer than anywhere else outside of the U.S. just flew right by me without feeling like it had been a big deal.

After so much time in this foreign place turned home, I find myself falling into the trap of forgetting how lucky I am to be here and the goals I dreamt of achieving before I got here. My biggest goal in coming to Ecuador was to improve my Spanish, and yet, I haven’t been doing everything I am capable of to improve.

I’m in love with the Spanish language; how distinct the accent and vocabulary is from country to country and how the language (in my humble opinion) sounds more beautiful than English. My listening skills and grammar skills are generally great (thanks to the Temple LASS program), but my conversational and essay writing skills are lacking. Sometimes I tend to be lazy in classes because I can understand 90-100% of what my professors are saying, which is more than some of my peers tell me they can understand. I feel like I can get by just fine if I am able to understand better than the rest of my class.

However good my listening skills are, I need to focus more on the areas that I can’t get by easily in: writing and speaking. Every one of my classes is given in Spanish by Ecuadorian professors. All my peers are Americans with varying levels of proficiency in Spanish. Unfortunately, as soon as class has finished, we all tend to speak in English because we are more comfortable and we are able to express ourselves better.

I have realized that I will not be able to achieve my goal of Spanish fluency if I am not making a constant effort to work on it. So I decided to write out how I am trying to stay present and accomplish what I set out to achieve.

First, I wanted to revisit the goals that I set before I arrived. The most important of all my goals was to improve my Spanish. To reset my focus on this, I thought about the best ways to change my habits in order to better my language skills (Spanish can be substituted for whatever language you’re trying to improve):

  1. Change phone’s language to Spanish
  2. Listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks in Spanish as often as you can!
    1. I love Spotify’s genre playlists – they have a great range of mixes from reggaeton, salsa, bachata, alternative, etc.
    2. NPR’s Radio Ambulante is my favorite Spanish podcast for current events in Latin America, the Caribbean, and even the U.S.
    3. I am currently listening to Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez on Audible and it’s a rewarding challenge, not only for the complex language, but for the fact that everything in that story isn’t quite what it seems
  3. Spend time with your host family or Spanish speaking friends
    1. No one knows the language better than native speakers, and they are a great resource for colloquial phrases or correcting your grammar
  4. Take note of what you don’t understand and ask questions, no matter how silly they may seem
    1. We grow from what we don’t know

And finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! We are human: which means learning can sometimes be uncomfortable and messy. If we spend all our time feeling guilty about not improving, that is just wasting time from actually trying to improve. Make sure to take some time for yourself too. It took me a while to get comfortable enough here to read alone in a coffeeshop or just take time to create art for myself, but it is worth it to stay present and focused on what my needs and goals are.

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Stay present by making new friends!

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