My RRIF Story: Studying in Sevilla, Spain
I had always dreamed of studying abroad. Like many other students, I wanted to see the world and travel. Studying in Spain as a Rachel Robinson International Fellowship (RRIF) recipient allowed me to make my dream a reality. From an academic perspective, my goal was to learn Spanish so that once I become a broadcast journalist, I can conduct interviews in Spanish.
Everything about my life in Sevilla was different from the one I had in Philadelphia. The first thing that was different was the language…of course! I had studied Spanish in high school and my first year in college; however, the experience of being fully immersed in the language was very different from conjugating sentences and memorizing vocabulary lists, never utilizing what I was learning outside of the classroom.
My first day, my host mom welcomed me to her home and explained my living arrangements. I only understood a few things she said as she was a kind, older woman who only spoke Spanish. When I went to orientation, I understood little of what was said during that session, too.
However, I was forced to learn fast, as my host family only spoke Spanish, my classes were all taught in Spanish, and the international school I was studying at had a Spanish-only speaking policy. In addition, many people in Sevilla were only able to speak Spanish. The language barrier turned everyday occurrences into challenges. For example, one night, we had dinner and my host mom served me salad. When she took my bowl away, she took my fork, too. When she served the next course, spaghetti, I wasn’t eating because I didn’t remember the word ‘fork’ to ask for another. All I could do was wave my hand and say, “No tengo…,” meaning, “I don’t have” which made her laugh.
Despite the challenges, I am happy I did a fully immersive program. But for my own sanity, my American friends and I would normally speak English outside of school. I kept in touch with my friends back home and I was still viewing media in English while slowly incorporating more Spanish media.
By the second semester, my Spanish had improved. At school, I was one of five academic year students because most students study abroad for just a semester. With the new study abroad students, I made it a point to get close to those with advanced Spanish skills that would be more eager to speak it outside the classroom. I was also communicating better with my host family. Finally, before I returned to the U.S., I visited Madrid. There, I checked into my hostel and onto my flight in Spanish, serving as testimony to how much I’d grown in the past year.
Outside of my language studies, I travelled extensively during my year abroad. I visited many cities in Spain; France, Italy, Morocco, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and Portugal.
Of all the countries I visited, Portugal was my favorite. There, I became fascinated by the Portuguese language, which is similar to Spanish. For example, hello is hola in Spanish, ola in Portuguese. While my language skills surpass most Americans, of which 1 in 4 speak a second language, they’re behind many Europeans. 50% of them speak a second language and 25% speak three or more. After witnessing all the doors that languages open both personally and professionally, I’ve decided to study Portuguese, in addition to continuing to make Spanish a part of my life. Being able to speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese will enable me converse with more than 2.1 billion people globally, an invaluable tool for any journalist.