Summer 2015 brought me to Salamanca in Spain as part of one of the subsidised summer opportunities on offer at the University of Leeds. It was a small, but lively, city two hours west of Madrid and only a short drive from the Portuguese border. It was lively and fun but also picturesque and quaint – the Oxford of Spain as some like to call it.
There were around 30 of us from Leeds, living in halls a short walk from the university, placed into classes according to our ability.
I was put into a class well above my ability and struggled a lot! The city tour on the first day was very overwhelming as it was conducted ALL in Spanish. I did not understand much of it but managed to learn the Spanish word for frog (‘rana’) as it is the mascot of Salamanca.
However, after understanding very little, I was slightly apprehensive about lessons conducted only in Spanish for the next month and struggled a lot in the first week.
But, this turned out to be the best thing as my Spanish improved drastically. Prior to the course, I’d only studied Spanish at GCSE and was just about able to order a drink, but nothing more. By the end, I was having conversations in Spanish, having learned just as much through the Spanish city life than I had through my studies.
My most memorable (and funniest) memory of language barriers becoming a problem was my attempt at a pole fitness class in Salamanca – all conducted in Spanish. The teacher was lovely and very encouraging, but, with zero successes at keeping myself up on the pole. I’ve realised, in retrospect, attempting pole fitness for the first time, in a second language, was bound to end in disaster.
Another stand out memory was navigating my first Bla Bla Car experience with my friend who had zero Spanish, and the the couple who were driving us, who had limited English. This was a more stressful than funny experience but I realised my Spanish was getting better when I actually understood a joke they made in Spanish and managed to translate it for my friend.
On a weekend trip to Segovia
It was a great opportunity to do some solo travelling to learn more about Spanish culture and also improve my Spanish! The FCO has some great advice for women travellers that came in handy, if you’re heading out alone for the first time!
Also, make sure you check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for a handy ‘Checklist for Travellers’ and for up-to-date travel information about your destination country before you head abroad.
Written by Fern Davidson-Averill