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Learning to Assimilate Abroad

Posted by on February 22, 2017

One of the most difficult aspects of studying abroad is being able to learn how to assimilate to the local culture. I know that I certainly struggled with this during my stay in Spain. However, having already experienced that struggle, I now have some tips that I can share with future study abroad students.

  • Do not be afraid of making mistakes! – This is something that cannot be stressed enough. Please do not be afraid of making mistakes when studying abroad. This can include cultural mistakes, such as not placing your silverware correctly on your plate after having finished eating, or linguistically, simply saying something completely wrong. I highly doubt that natives would expect you to be able to perfectly navigate your way through a foreign culture. So if they accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes, you should as well.

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  • Put yourself out there! – I know that being in a foreign country can be a very scary experience, and that it can also be very overwhelming. However, in order to fully benefit from your study abroad experience, it is necessary that you go out of your way to get to know the local people, the place where you’re living and the language that is spoken. For example, when I lived in Spain, I would do several events with Erasmus Bilbao which really helped me make not only local friends, but friends from around the world. I ended up climbing a mountain, albeit a very small one, and making friends from Austria, Germany, Mexico and several from Spain.
  • Speak the language as much as you can! – Speaking the local language is probably one of the most challenging – yet most rewarding – experiences yet. Learning a language that is different from your native one can be a very daunting experience. You are going to make mistakes, plenty of them, even if you’ve already studied the language for some period of time. For example, before going to Spain, I had already studied Spanish for a good seven years, and yet, upon arriving in Spain found that I could barely understand anything that the people were saying. Believe me when I say that this was extremely frustrating. However, instead of allowing this to discourage me, I chose to remember why I wanted to study abroad in the first place, to master the Spanish language. It took a good while, but after almost three full months of living in Spain I finally broke the language barrier. I can now understand virtually everything that people say when they speak in Spanish, which is such an amazing feeling. Having a better grasp of listening has helped me become a better speaker as well, which has already been useful after having returned from Spain. The moral of the story is, do not give up on learning a foreign language! You can and you will do it!
  • Live with a host family – I would say that this tip is not required for having a great experience abroad, however, it will definitely help you assimilate to the foreign culture and learn their norms, as well as greatly help you with your language. Looking back, I can honestly say that one of the most rewarding experiences of my study abroad experience was the bond that I made with my host mother. She was unbelievably understanding, kind and patient with me as I waded through the intricacies of Spanish culture. She even showed me various places in and around Bilbao, which really helped to make me feel at home. Although it may not be a necessity, I highly recommend that you live with a host family to best understand the country that you’re living in.

I hope that these tips helped ease your nerves in some way about studying abroad. I know that this entire process may be scary and frightening, but studying abroad will help give you a better understanding of the world we live in as well as opening up a world of opportunities, both at home and abroad.

sean-coleman Sean Coleman
scolema4@umw.edu
Spanish Major
Linguistics Major
University of Deusto, Spain

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