Last month did you read Jason’s story about how Travel is helping him overcome his anxiety? This month my guest blogger Tyler shares with us all how Travel is all about learning….
My name is Tyler Black. I was born, raised, and currently live in Pennsylvania. I write for Dreams Abroad. Leesa Truesdell, the founder of the blog, and I were put in contact in a very unusual way. While she was at her hair salon, my sister, one of the hairdressers, got to chatting with her. Leesa mentioned the travel resource blog and my sister told her how I had just gotten back from Spain after living there for two years teaching English. Coincidentally, Leesa had done the same a year or so prior. My sister gave her my contact info, and the rest is history!
Dreams Abroad is made up of a very experienced team of travelers who share quality information and tips for those wishing to study and/or work abroad, as well as those who travel for leisure. I mainly contribute to the “Travel Tales” and “Travel Tips” sections since I travel a lot and always have wild stories to share. Unlike other travel blogs with teams of writers, I find Dreams Abroad to be very personal and less intimidating in terms of the content we share. We have all been that young kid ready to see the world but have been filled with so many questions and doubts. Now that we are all seasoned explorers, we know how to address those uncertainties that others face as they begin their journeys.
Travel, to me, is learning. Learning as much as I can about whatever I can. Whether it’s history, language, culture, food, or special holidays, I always want to leave a trip knowing a lot more than I did beforehand. It’s always great to say you’ve been to a new place, but I think the knowledge you carry with you afterwards is far more important than anything else. I always try to book as many tours into my itinerary as possible, whether they be city tours, castle tours, or excursions into the countryside. I also make it a point to learn a few words and phrases of the local language wherever I’m visiting. This way I can at least have some basic communication with the locals and to understand signs and instructions so that I don’t look totally lost. Even trying the cuisine, no matter how crazy it may look, is important to me. You won’t know if you like something if you don’t try it.
One of my best learning experiences was while I was living in Spain. Growing up, I had (and still have) many friends of South American descent. I was always envious of how they could speak a different language to their parents and siblings, while I only knew boring ol’ English. I wanted to be bilingual more than anything. I studied Spanish in high school and university, and even spent a summer in Spain, but I was not achieving the results I was hoping for. My classes were only a few hours a week, which was not enough. Even while studying in Spain, although there was a lot more exposure to Spanish than back in America, I found myself retreating to my English-speaking classmates. All in all, I was not getting that immersion factor that I feel is very important to mastering a language.
I was not about to give up yet, though. During my time in Spain, I fell absolutely in love with the country. I knew I had to go back. So, after graduating from university, I applied to be an English teacher with the country’s Ministry of Education. To my delight, I was accepted! As excited I was to be teaching my native language, I was equally as thrilled to be immersed in the Spanish culture. I knew this would aid me in my pursuit to becoming bilingual. I left for Spain in September of 2015. I lived in a town called Badajoz. I won’t lie, the first few months were very difficult for me. I had to find a place to live, set up a bank account, and finalize my visa; all in Spanish! The amount of dumbfounded faces I shared while going through this was, looking back, priceless. Nonetheless, I succeeded without too much confusion. I was very proud of myself.
As the year went on, I took many steps to improve my Spanish, but it wasn’t so easy. I made an effort to chat with my coworkers during our lunch break, but every conversation eventually transitioned to English. I didn’t blame them, either. Their fast speaking coupled with their colloquial terms made my head spin to the point where I was just babbling incoherently. They knew I was trying, and helped me out a lot. I was very appreciative of that. Looking for more help, I received a private class from a very gracious local about once a week. His lessons aided me greatly, especially with all the colloquial words they don’t teach you in school.
After the year ended, I looked back on my growth and was very happy with my progress. But there was still more work to be done. I decided to move to Madrid as the small town life just wasn’t for me anymore. I’m much more energized by the fast pace of the city. This time, finding a place to live and renewing my visa was much easier for me. There were more smiles and a lot less confused looks.
My Spanish only improved as time went on. Every Thursday night, I would go to a bar across town that hosted an “intercambio.” An “intercambio” is an event where people practice speaking another language to each other. In this case, it was only Spanish. Every week drew a new crowd so I had plenty of fresh faces to hone my language skills with. I also made a habit of traveling to a new city outside of Madrid a few times a month. Not only did I get to see new places filled with hundreds of years of history, I was also able to break up the familiarity of Madrid. You begin to see and hear the same things after a while so it was nice to spice things up.
After spending Halloween with a Spanish friend of mine in Cordoba, I began looking for ways to return to Madrid. I was going to take the bus, but the schedule was not cooperative with mine. I decided to take a BlaBlaCar. BlaBlaCar is a very famous ride sharing app in Europe. I had used it plenty of times before, but usually all the other Spaniards in the car would talk to each other the whole ride and I would be left out. Not that I cared. I like sleeping during long drives. Anyway, on this five hour drive back to Madrid, I turned out to be the only passenger. It wasn’t the end of the world; maybe my driver knew English? Nope. My anxiety spiked. Spanish people love chatting. How am I supposed to speak Spanish for five whole hours?
We started the drive talking about cars since we both had sports cars. Then sports. Then politics. Then the military. Then places in Spain. Then places in America. We talked about my life. We talked about his life. Then the next thing I knew, we were pulling into Madrid. Wait, what? We’re here already? The driver thanked me for entertaining him the whole drive and complimented my Spanish. It was the biggest confidence boost I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe it. Did I really speak Spanish for five hours straight? It was at that moment I realized that I had finally achieved what I wanted for so long. At last I truly felt bilingual. I will always look back at my time in Spain as one of my biggest growths as a person. Although it taught me to be a better traveler, it taught me an even bigger life lesson: to be a better learner.
To read more of Tyler’s posts head over to Dreams Abroad where you will find lots of top tips including a guide to the region he stayed in during his first year in Spain.
Thanks Tyler for sharing such an incredible story of learning whilst travelling. It’s definitely inspired me to do more on my next trip away and if you feel the same why not let us know in the comments below?
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