This time last year my Spanish skills were hitting their peak. I had been living in Oviedo for three months, and I had been speaking in Spanish at least 5 hours a day. I ate meals with my host mom, Carmen, attended Spanish classes at the University of Oviedo, and went out with friends to continue practicing our Spanish after class. I was immersed in the language, thankfully – that was the reason I chose to study abroad. When I ordered coffee at the cafe, I spoke in Spanish. When I answered a question in class, I spoke in Spanish.
One year out from my semester in Spain, I am still pretty proficient in Spanish. I can understand conversations between my classmates, people talking on the phone in public, and on TV shows. My responses are definitely slower than they were at this time last year, but my classmate recently said that he “couldn’t hear my American accent” so that was a nice compliment! I took a Spanish Translation class last semester that I really enjoyed, but I am no longer (and maybe never again) taking a Spanish class. So, I need to keep up in other ways. I practice with my roommates sometimes, but other than that I am doing a pretty bad job. I don’t listen to Spanish podcasts or watch Spanish shows. I don’t even use Duolingo anymore. Yikes!
Since returning from Spain, I’ve been itching to have that same immersive experience again: to constantly have my skills challenged, to feel the freedom to make mistakes, to continue learning every day, and to connect with more people on this great big planet. I’d really like to live abroad again and have a reason to make me practice my Spanish some more!
Looking to my professional future, I would like to use my Spanish language skills in my career. I am studying Community Development and Spanish at Temple, and as an emerging community engagement professional I plan to collaborate with English- and Spanish-speaking community members of all ages to implement community development initiatives like community arts events, after-school activities, and food access programs.
With this, I know that going back to Spain for a year or two post-grad is a viable option. I can continue to develop my Spanish language skills and gain practical experience working with diverse communities. While I don’t have a lot of teaching experience, I have worked with kids before and know I really enjoy it. In the back of my mind, I knew that the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) was an option, but I never thought I had a shot. Over the summer, my childhood friend convinced me that I had enough experience and reminded me, “Come on Rach, the worst they can do is say no.” (Thank you Alexa!)
So, I applied for the Fulbright ETA to Spain back in the fall, with the help of many professors, friends, and Temple’s own Fellowships Advisor, Barbara Gorka. Through the many hours working on essay drafts, I not only convinced myself that I was qualified for the position, but that it was an important step for my career. Well, Fulbright agreed—I was selected as a semifinalist! This doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed a spot (there is one more round of selections), but it is still nice to know that my hard work was worth it.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I have yet to hear from Fulbright (although some other Temple students have just recently been notified!). Even still, I am worried that I might have to postpone this dream and find a different job to wait out the pandemic (and of course I’m also worried if I will be selected). This uncertainty is frustrating and saddening, but I know that in a time like this, I just have to wait.
I consider myself to be a pretty go-with-the-flow person, and I definitely refined that skill while I was in Spain. From travel mishaps to adjusting to a completely new living and eating schedule, I am working to channel this adaptability in my life now. Putting my life on hold right as a new chapter was about to start was definitely not my plan… and I like to have plans. But there are plenty of other folks in the same position as me, and there is some solidarity and empathy in the fact that my situation, like many of my study abroad peers, is taking a turn in a direction I never planned. So here’s to making the best with what we have right now in the name of global health and safety, and here’s to not giving up on our future goals and dreams.