Turning Point

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Rhiannon Williams 5Rhiannon Williams 1

Half way through my semester abroad in Valparaíso, Chile, I experienced an important turning point in my journey. My host mother sat me down and asked if I was happy with my living situation. I never felt completely comfortable living with my host parents during the first two months in Chile but I could not pinpoint the issue. My host mother helped me realize that I had been coming across as aloof. I knew I had been very reserved in the beginning as I became accustomed to the new culture. I realized that I had put up invisible walls and did not communicate enough with my host family. The issue was how to become accustomed to living at home with a family while going to university. I was very familiar with coming and going as I pleased at university in the U.S without having to answer to anyone. Even though I lost some independence that I had in the States, I gained two caring host parents.

After that moment, I interacted more with my host family which boosted my happiness and comfort. I know that my timidity is a part of who I am and awkward silences are sometimes unavoidable. At first I was upset that I may have wasted the first two months of my study abroad journey. Then I realized that it was an incredible learning experience. Since then I have been living by this quote: “Optimist: someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s more like a cha-cha”.

Rhiannon Williams 3My constant struggle with the language Castellano (Chilean Spanish) closely ties with this. I would be so concerned about what to talk about in Spanish with my host family during meals that I would sit silently with thoughts whirling around in my head. I learned to just talk and not worry so much about making grammatical errors. Some days were easier than others and I could tell that my Spanish improved when I decided to just let things be.

I also had an internal struggle with English. I would feel guilty for conversing in English with my friends instead of practicing Spanish. I would then silently fight with myself instead of interact with my friends. I put so much pressure on myself to reach a high level of fluency in Spanish while abroad. I realized that I would not magically become fluent and I needed to make peace with this. Every day I spoke Spanish, as well as English occasionally with friends.

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My Spanish improved tremendously over the five months which was often difficult to see. It is most important to view the improvement from when I arrived to when I returned to the United States rather than compare myself to others or wish that I were closer to fluency. So many people told me as I left the States that I would come back fluent in Spanish. I returned improved and more confident which is more important to me than the end goal. The journey is more important than the destination.

 

Rhiannon Williams is a student at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Chilean Universities Program, Valparaiso, in 2014.

Article by Rhiannon Williams