by Emelyne Coulon-Oliero (undergraduate FIGRI French Exchange student, the World in English elective)
Living abroad in a little city
The first time I went abroad for a long period I was 18, and I went from France to Venezuela. I participated in an exchange program with Rotary International that allowed me to stay in the country for 10 months. This organization sends students from all over the Earth to other countries. You are hosted by a local family that sends their son or daughter abroad with the same organization.
I had only learnt English back then, and I was sent to Coro, a little city in Falcon state on the coast. The city was so small that very few people knew English. That was kind of a problem for me because I had very bad Spanish. But do you know what? That was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was forced to communicate in my host language and in three months I spoke very good Spanish. My only issue was that the Corianos had some very colloquial words and pronunciation: this is the thing with little cities.
Living abroad in a big city
This is my second time abroad: I am in Colombia for one year at the Externado de Colombia University. When I arrived, everyone talked to me in English: people see my face, which does not seem to be from this side of the world, and communicate with the most global language that exists right now. This is an important point: it is easier to travel in big cities because you can communicate with almost everyone if you speak English.
There is also another thing that is an advantage of living in Bogota: the Spanish spoken in this city is so neutral that I can understand almost everything. When I left Coro, I still had some difficulty understanding everything, but this is not the case in Bogota. It is a city of culture, diversity, foreigners and a lot of tourism and this helps foreigners learn a neutral Spanish that can be understood in every Spanish-speaking country.
Learning Spanish in Latin America
When I started to speak in Spanish in Bogota, people realized that my Spanish was kind of fluent… but I clearly was not from here. I used some words that aren’t from Colombia. For example: I went to the Oma in the seventh avenue and I ordered a parchita juice… The waiter stared at me as if my sentence was not in Spanish. Well, he just did not know what it was. Actually, in Colombia, parchita is maracuyá.
This is the thing with Latin America: every country has specific words, even if they speak the same language. This is one of the charms of this continent.
· If you just want to travel to discover the world, go to big cities first, learn some vocabulary and then you can venture to a more colloquial city.
· If you want to speak another language fluently and quickly, go to a little city where no one can speak to you in another language than the one you want to learn.
But, the most important thing:
TRAVEL AND ENJOY IT!