Emma Sampson:

He Aprendido

About the Author: Emma Sampson is a first-year Global Studies and Public Policy Major. She spent her first semester abroad in Granada, Spain as a part of the Carolina Global Launch program where she developed her interest in all things International Affairs. Emma describes the content of this piece as a story she wishes she had known while abroad, and that she hopes that it can calm the nerves or reassure those who come across it that being abroad is an enriching experience like no other.

About the piece: When I applied to study abroad in Spain for my first semester of college with no previous Spanish-language experience or education, I knew there would be challenges. However, it wasn’t until I arrived in Granada on a warm Spanish day that the reality of the challenges ahead of me became real, and overwhelming. After disembarking the bus from the airport, I was immediately greeted by my smiling new host Mom. She greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and asked me about my journey. The only problem was, I didn’t understand a word she was saying. In a panic, I approached my bilingual trip directors and asked them to explain my Spanish language experience — or rather, lack thereof – to my host mother. My host mother responded to this by turning to me and saying, “You are in Spain. You will speak Spanish.” This intimidated me at first, but as I spent more time in Spain, my host family helped me not only learn the Spanish language, but also a valuable lesson in the power of kindness.

I spent my first night in Granada fighting back tears at dinner. Compared to my cohort’s years of Spanish classes, I felt like I was embarking upon a game of catch-up I could never win. But after a few weeks of total language immersion and daily Spanish classes, things started to click for me, both in my understanding of the Spanish language and my overall mindset. Slowly I felt Spain become a part of me, and as I walked through the cobblestoned streets, I found comfort in hearing the Spanish flowing around me. This was not a process that happened overnight or without significant effort, as the hours I spent on verb conjugations can attest. What made it all worth it though was going home everyday and having the ability to have conversations with my host family and see the delighted looks on their faces when I remembered the name of a fruit on the lunch table or was able to tell them what I learned in class that day. But what touched me the most was the genuine care behind their enthusiasm.

Going into this experience, I had severely underestimated the hospitality and patience my host family was willing to extend to a complete stranger. From the moment I arrived, they showed a dedication to helping me learn Spanish. They would sit around the table with me for hours so I could practice my language skills with them and never rushed me when I would struggle to form a sentence or remember a word. From the beginning of my time in Granada, they exuded extreme patience. For instance, following Spanish tradition, I had brought a ceramic mug from my hometown to gift my host family on my first night. I was so nervous about explaining to them that I had brought them a gift that I accidentally dropped the mug on the tile floor, where it shattered instantly. I was mortified, yet within seconds my host grandmother was there with a broom to help me pick up the pieces. I did not anticipate this moment nor the compassion that I was shown as a newcomer. I quickly began to understand that kindness does not know a nationality, but is instead a global culture.

On my final afternoon in Spain, I sat around the table with my family, laughing with them about how timid I was on my first night and how far I had come. My time in Granada made me realize that kindness knows no borders, but is a universal language. The generosity my host family showed me turned a group of strangers into a family in a mere three months. Just like the pieces of the mug I shattered that first night, my host family had helped me piece together fragments of their own language, an act that I will be forever grateful for. I take great pride in saying I left Spain with a greater understanding of two languages- Spanish and kindness.

Sampson [Study Abroad Reflection]

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