As a Spanish student in St Andrews, I felt I had three options at the end of my second year: take a year out of my studies to do a work placement in Spain, study abroad for a semester in Spain, or figure out another way to improve my Spanish so I wasn’t the worst speaker in the class in my third year. So, due to apprehension with saying Hasta luego to the Bubble for a year, I decided to go for option three and find my own path to get my Spanish skills on the same level of my peers.
This route was actually easier than I thought: with a free summer at my disposal, I made an account on Aupairworld.com, found a friendly family that was willing to host me, and before I knew it, I was jetting off to Madrid for five weeks to work as a nanny to two kids. Within the first few days, I was hit harder than I expected by the language barrier that comes with accepting a paid job in a foreign country.
Whether you know the language or not, be prepared to struggle with the language on your arrival to any country that isn’t your native one. Even though I have studied Spanish in school since I was 13, I had never been in an environment where Spanish was being spoken all day, every day, by everyone around me. However, though this can be over-whelming and leave you feeling insecure about your own abilities, try to stay positive and focus your energy on learning as much as you can about the language and culture. When I was forced to listen, speak, and under-stand Spanish for five weeks straight, I gradually felt my grasp of the language improve, even finding myself thinking and dreaming in Spanish.
It may seem impossible at first, but overtime, anyone in your shoes will begin to improve their understanding of a language when they are surrounded by it for a long period of time. Another struggle of au-pairing is the loneliness factor. As much as I was trying to enjoy my experience in Spain, the adjustment to the lifestyle took longer than expected. Surrounded mostly by strangers who didn’t speak my native language, I’m not ashamed to say I cried myself to sleep the first few nights wondering whether I could survive the five weeks – but, then again, who wouldn’t?
As liberating as solo travel and experiences like these can be, no one talks about the hard moments and the feeling of total isolation from your friends and family that you experience while you’re away. For those entering similar situations or considering a solo travel adventure, I advise you to be kind to yourself as you settle in and prepare to be homesick.
If you’re worried about this, set times be-fore you go where you’ll call home or FaceTime your friends. By scheduling this with your loved ones in advance, you’ll not only have something to look forward to but you’ll also ensure that these check-in moments don’t get lost or forgotten about in the craziness of settling in to your new routine abroad.
To end on a positive note, I would like to note that despite the teary nights, the language barrier, and the absolute homesickness I felt most of the time, I wouldn’t change anything about my time in Spain. As difficult as those five weeks may have been, I learned more about Spanish culture, food, and the language than I ever thought possible, I lucked out with the kindest host family I could’ve asked for, and I grew as a person and learned how to take care of myself when times get tough. Now, I have beautiful stories to tell and memories to remember, and some all-star anecdotes I can use in a job interview. Plus, when else will I be able to drop all responsibilities and spend half the summer holiday working in a foreign country?
If you’re thinking about travelling to a new country on your own, working or studying abroad, or even just doing something that scares you, go for it and don’t look back. Life is too short for the “what ifs”, and as University students, the time for us to take advantage of these crazy opportunities is running out.