How many times have you watched the time tick away in class? If your countdown starts with tres, trois, or drei and the only challenge you face in class is sitting still for an hour, then it’s time for a change. We live in a world where, instead of doing things the hard way, we are often encouraged to do things in the most easy, efficient way. So, you have to choose to create your own challenges. Choosing to be immersed in another language and culture abroad, instead of accepting a vague understanding from a textbook, is a challenge ripe for the taking; it is time to venture abroad on a language learning adventure!
Why Immerse in a New Language Abroad
At an age where fostering independence and personal growth is key, traveling is a real benefit for most teens. Whether it’s learning how to navigate public transit or figuring out how to converse in another language, going abroad is the kind of experience that you just can’t help but grow from. You will undoubtedly return home a more confident and fulfilled person, and there isn’t a parent in the world that doesn’t want that!
The moment you realize that language has a life beyond textbooks, or when you participate in the inevitable awkward dinner conversation with your host family, is when you’ll truly earn your stripes. These character-building experiences bring out the best and worst in all of us, and teach us much more than any verb-conjugation chart in a textbook ever could.
Forming a sense of global awareness during your formative years will result in fresh perspectives and transferable skills that will remain with you for life. Companies cannot find enough applicants with the requisite skills to operate in an international market place. International experience indicates that individuals have fostered global awareness, so these skilled individuals will be greatly rewarded with a college application fast-tracked for early admission or maybe a resume bumped to the top of the list!
The location you choose for your language immersion program will obviously directly correlate with the language you wish to immerse yourself in. It may seem overwhelming to decide where you should go, but do not fear! There is a place out there that will speak to you.
Hablas español? Spanish is known for its variety of dialects which gives you a wide selection of locations to choose from. Latin American Spanish (the “cleanest” Spanish emphasized in your textbook) is the spoken primarily in Mexico and the majority of Central and South American countries, such as Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Peru. If you want to master the lispy Spain-Spanish, whet your whistle in Barc(th)elona or Valenc(th)ia.
Est-ce que tu parles français? Spend some time basking in the glittering city of Paris while sharpening your French skills and taking in the best of France. After class you can take your new French skills to the streets and cruise the Seine at sunset, stroll the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and explore the boulevards by bike. Many language immersion programs in France make it a priority to be in Paris for Bastille Day. Watch the parades, attend the Fêtes des Pompiers, and enjoy the fireworks from the Eiffel Tower! If you are itching to get off the beaten path a little more, immersion programs are also offered in a few African countries where French is the official language, like Senegal. But remember, you can always tackle France first and save the hard core destinations for college.
Sprichst du Deutsch? If German is your Sprache of choice, Berlin is perfect for testing the international waters of language immersion. The multicultural metropolis maintains the unpretentious charm of an international village while simultaneously packing in a history lesson. This is a city that staged a revolution, was headquartered by Nazis, bombed to bits, divided in two and finally reunited, and that was just in the 20th century! Walk along remnants of the Berlin Wall, marvel at the splendor of a Prussian palace, or stand in the very room where the Holocaust was planned. Berlin is like an endlessly fascinating 3D textbook where the past is very much present wherever you go.
Parli italiano? Get astonished by the pillars of Italian culture while living in the heart of Florence. Located in the renowned region of Tuscany, Florence is situated on the banks of the Arno River, surrounded by the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. There is no better place to delve into the Italian language, and learn about fashion, food, and art than in the birthplace of the most delicious carbs.
Language Immersion Programs Abroad
It can be a daunting task to sort through all of the options and choose a language immersion program that suits you. Take your time reading reviews when trying to find out which one speaks to you. Language immersion programs usually move throughout several locations in a given region, allowing students to experience a number of different places and excursions. Homestays are the norm for language immersion programs, and bilingual guides will usually be within arms reach while you are out and about.
The most common short-term option for high school students is a summer immersion program. Groups (#squadgoals) will spend a month or two gallivanting around the city or country in the afternoons after buckling down in morning class times. Usually the last week of the program is dedicated to excursions and applying what you learned in the classroom in the real world.
If you’re in it for the long haul, consider a language exchange program that offers semester and year-long gap programs. There are many levels of language courses from beginner to advanced offered abroad, so all high school students can feel comfortable, yet challenged, in an immersive environment. Cultural activities and overnight excursions are included, however students will also have free time to explore their host cities on their own. Keep in mind the minimum age for these programs is typically 17 years old, but students who complete language immersion programs usually receive university credit. Score!
Benefits & Challenges
Diving head first into a new culture does not guarantee ease and comfort; instead it offers something much better: a chance for growth beyond knowledge. This type of growth will facilitate mindfulness and humility that cannot be shaken. So what are you waiting for? Conquer the challenges and reap the benefits!
Immersion. Learning a foreign language without leaving the comfort of your home country and culture presents an obstacle of narrowness that can only be hurdled by immersion into a new culture. To be fluent in a second language, you need an all-inclusive understanding of the culture and nonverbal communication, instead of just filling up and facts and translations. Communication is a two-way street, and listening is perhaps the road less traveled. Reel in your eagerness to practice your new speaking skills and take the time to listen and observe how the natives interact and engage with one another.
Career Advantage. With universal unemployment problems, multilingual abilities provide an unquestionable competitive edge over other applicants. When an interviewer sees that you learned that language smack dab in the middle of the culture it houses, you will undoubtedly set the bar for all other candidates.
Parental Approval. Convincing your parents you won’t be starring in the next Taken movie may be your biggest challenge of all. One critical step required before you can start packing your bags is gaining mom and dad's blessing (and probably money). Do your homework and provide them with as much information as possible, especially regarding the safety aspect. Before you do so, finish your chores and remember to tell them you love them. May the odds be ever in your favor!
Using English as a crutch. Resist the temptation to revert back to your mother tongue when you’re in a pinch. Pushing through tough situations will produce a whole new learning environment that can’t be replicated in a classroom. Don’t short-change yourself!
Language immersion abroad teaches and encourages respect for other people and fosters an understanding of the interrelation of language and human nature. Learn a language abroad and join the fight to break down the barriers of distrust and fear; the tolerance and flexibility you gain from this experience will undeniably shine for others to see. Words have the power to speak life. Being able to speak the same words in more than one language creates space for not only changing your worldview, but for changing the world.