I have seen how easy it is to lose a language or an experience quickly as soon as you’re not surrounded by it. Not only is it frustrating but it can be outright upsetting when you realize what you used to do daily has left you completely. I wanted to give a couple of tips on how to retain and use what you learned abroad so that you can keep your experience with you.
I know it’s hard enough to start a conversation in your native language, let alone a foreign one, but I encourage you to try to converse when you can. Most people are very excited when someone wants to speak in their first language with them. Just ask politely if you can talk and practice, and unless they’re busy, I’m sure they will be more than willing.
I’ve had native Spanish speakers ask me questions because they realize I know more than Si! and Gracias! It’s scary but it’s worth it when you get to hear the language again and practice (even if you misunderstand here and there).
This is similar to using the language when you can, but it’s important to emphasize. If you see someone struggling to understand instructions or trying to get a message across that is being misunderstood, step in if you can.
Try to pop your head in and ask if they would like translation help, that way you can relay information back and forth. Sometimes the conversation might be too advanced for you to handle in two languages, but maybe you can still get the gist of it across. Do your best, people will be grateful for any help you can lend.
I was working at a summer camp and a lady wasn’t understanding how check-in worked and because I heard her speaking Spanish to her daughter earlier, I popped my head in. Within the first few words, I realized that I didn’t know how to say all the key nouns I needed, but I was able to get across that more people could help her downstairs where the rest of check-in was. I felt like I hadn’t done a very good job, but she thanked me a bunch and seemed very relieved that someone else understood her when she was pointing out which things were her daughter’s.
I promise you that even if you realize you don’t have the words you need, you can get enough across and the other person will be grateful, plus it feels great to help others, especially while practicing another language!
You don’t have to search out the culture you experienced abroad because, as you learned, new cultures are awesome and super interesting. So if you ever find yourself in a position where you can learn something new about someone, embrace it.
While I was in Spain, a bubble tea place called Zen Zoo Salamanca hosted a cultural conversation type meeting where people could come in, practice English, and learn about others’ cultures. If you have something like that in your town, check it out! If there isn’t one, maybe you can set one up! (It could even be a senior project).
Remember that you’ve already pushed past your comfort zone a bunch by going abroad, so do your best to keep that going and work to practice the language, help people out if you have the cultural bridge needed, and keep learning!
Elias Harold, from Astoria, Oregon, is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipient. Learn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!