I have to say, as excited as I was at the beginning of this semester to immerse myself in Spanish and really try my hardest to speak it whenever possible, it’s been very difficult to keep that promise to myself. At first I was so happy, I couldn’t wait to have almost no access to English, and I was imagining the huge benefits it would have for my comprehension, listening and speaking abilities. But I’ve found that I crave English more than I would have ever expected. I’m pretty sure it’s not a desire to literally speak the English language (because I find Spanish to be much more fascinating- hence the major), but a need to feel that I’m expressing myself fully and clearly. Sometimes it’s so frustrating to want to say something to someone and either feel that I’m not really capturing the essence of the message I’m trying to send, or to simply have no idea how to say it. But I’m not complaining- as odd as this may sound, I’m glad I’m feeling this frustration because it makes me want to try harder- it increases my passion to learn and really comprehend the language so that one day I won’t feel like there are any barriers standing between me and self-expression. That would be great. The biggest problems I’ve run into regarding the language barrier are all the times I’ve been sick here so far (some illnesses being worse than others), and trying to communicate what I’m feeling. I feel bad sometimes because I think I make my host mom worry more than she should because I can’t always communicate the intensity of how I’m feeling. I’ve learned that gestures and facial expressions are invaluable tools in trying to communicate what I feel, and even with a fairly high level of language comprehension, I absolutely depend on them. Also, though I guess it’s not that surprising, English is all over the place in Cusco because of the immense number of tourists that travel here year-round. While in some ways it’s comforting to know that in most cases I’ll be able to get the message across one way or another, it’s also a little disappointing when, for example, I go to a restaurant with some friends and the waiter automatically speaks English to us, or when I’m trying to say something in Spanish and I’ve simply forgotten the word or phrase, so the person I’m talking to starts speaking to me in English. Sometimes I just want to say, “No! I know Spanish, and I know how to say this, please just give me a moment!” But I don’t because I don’t want to be rude. All in all, though, I think that my understanding of Spanish has improved, even if it is sometimes difficult to find opportunities to use it when I want to, so I’m doing my best to create them.
Caitlin Petersen is studying abroad in Cusco, Peru, with ProWorld.