By University of Glasgow student Aleksandra Calicka
Living in Gran Canaria was so much more than a good time on the beach or long walks through the dunes. Of course, I sunbathed on the beach, I did some hiking, and went to the dunes. Yet, for me, as a language learner, it was a life-changing experience on my language-learning journey and beyond.
Once in Spain, I made a conscious decision to avoid talking to Canarians in English. There were times where I didn’t understand them, and there were times when they didn’t understand me. However, none of that mattered because their welcoming nature meant that they were very patient and always took time to repeat and clarify.
They were also eager to explain their local words, so after a while guagua (bus) and fleje (a lot) became a part of my everyday vocabulary bank. Learning in context, from the natives, also proved to be extremely effective. Sure, we can all learn from films, books and dictionaries, but we all know that the more we care, the more we remember. While I could technically learn how to say “gasket”, it is that much easier to remember it once I had to discuss a broken sink with my landlord. Learning in real-life situations makes me remember more relevant words faster and in the right context so that they can be used effectively in communication, which is the ultimate goal of language learning.
I chose to study at a Spanish university instead of working as a British Council teacher or doing an internship because I wanted to make sure that I keep developing academically – even on my year abroad. To do that, I decided to study subjects such as linguistics and Spanish for native speakers. This way, during linguistics classes, I developed a more academic Spanish, and, on top of that, learnt about the theories which are useful for every linguist. By contrast, Spanish for native speakers was an interesting opportunity to look at the language I’m trying to master from a different angle. Not only did I learn about grammar, but also about the history, dialects, and other characteristics of Spanish.
It was also a deeply enriching experience on a cultural and personal level. Culturally, I was able to see a way of living which is more relaxed than the one I am used to. I enjoyed my leche leche (coffee with regular milk and addition of condensed milk) in a local café, going to the beach even in February, and hearing stories from people I met along the way, whether local or from all over the world. I know that friends that I met in Gran Canaria will continue to be present in my life for years to come, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Lastly, any change is a challenge that makes us transform as a person. Moving to yet another country, making new friends, finding yourself in a completely new reality and even completing the paperwork to obtain all the documents you need can be overwhelming. However, I can reassure you that the growth and lessons that result from all those experiences make it absolutely worthwhile.