I’m coming very close to the end of my study abroad experience. I find that I keep looking back to the beginning of the semester, and what I keep coming back to is just how truly terrible I was with the French language.
In the past, I had taken 3 years of French, but only during my first three years of high school. I think most people can testify that learning a language in high school isn’t very helpful. Then, after those three years, I had two years of school where I did not take French — meaning I forgot a good majority of the little bit of French that I did know. I had a complete lack of ability in the French language, and yet, with this complete lack of ability, I decided to head to France, take classes only taught in French, and live with a French family (who spoke French the entire time). This whole story seems like it should be one big catastrophe; a sure recipe for disaster. But it really wasn’t. Instead, it was one of the best semesters I’ve had, and that’s why I want to tell anyone who is thinking about going to a different country with a different language that it is, in fact, a great idea.
No matter what level you are at, it will be difficult.
I am one of the students with the lowest level of French in my program, but I noticed that, despite whatever level someone was at, every single person had their struggles and rough patches just like I did. There’s always times of embarrassment, feeling uncomfortable, and just not understanding anything, but that’s what learning a language is. There’s just no way to get around it — unless you’re actually fluent — but I haven’t met any study abroad student that is. It sure was not easy, but I’m so glad that I decided to leave my comfort zone of English. While I’ve been confused for a good part of this time abroad, I’ve also been learning so much more than I would’ve any other way. It got me to try things I normally would not have, and to learn to get over the embarrassing experiences because they happen a lot.
You will feel dumb at times.
So often, I’ve forgotten how to say the most basic sentences, completely misunderstood what was being said to me, or just simply didn’t get it right. Sometimes the French people will give me a condescending look, but most of the time it’s either pity or the look that portrays how much they are laughing at me on the inside. But once again, that is what learning a language is like. It’s probably one of the hardest things anyone can do, especially at a later age, and it really takes a lot of courage, so it doesn’t matter what other people think.
Don’t worry though, it’ll work out.
Here I am, at the end of my semester, and it’s been an amazing time. Despite my lack of language experience and my many embarrassing moments, I managed to get through this semester alive and thriving, and my French level has improved as well. So put those language fears to the side, because it’s no reason not to go abroad.