If you choose to study abroad somewhere other than the United Kingdom or Australia, chances are that you will find yourself immersed in a foreign language. Many study abroad programs do not require students to have previously studied the language or to study the language during their semester abroad. I can understand not wanting to set many requirements that may restrict students’ participation or clutter their course loads, but I also think that language skills are important and engaging with a foreign language in a full-immersion situation for 4 months is an invaluable life experience. The IES Abroad Vienna program requires all students to enroll in a German course while abroad, which pushed us to interact with locals and get outside of our comfort zones. My German class was a ton of fun, and we learned very practical, useful vocabulary and grammar. My study abroad experience would not have been the same without the opportunity to further my study of German and gain many hours improving my speaking and listening skills.
I studied German in high school because I was that Texan who didn’t want to study Spanish. I also appreciated the smaller class sizes and that I was able to learn from the same teacher all 3 years. I came to Vienna in part because I had a foundation of German to build on (my other option was Italy- that would have been interesting!). I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to revive my rusty language skills and rapidly improve. At orientation, students with German experience took placement exams and had group interviews to determine which course level they should be placed in. It was not a scary experience, and I was glad to find that I retained a lot of my reading comprehension and a decent speaking level. I was placed in the 301 class (level 3 of 6), which turned out to be a perfect fit. I learned so much throughout the 4 months, and I can now comfortably interact with Austrian and German friends “auf Deutsch” with moderate ease and success.
Learning a foreign language is difficult and pushes you to step out of your comfort zone. It takes a lot of courage to initiate interactions in another language and to be willing to make mistakes, big or small. I cannot tell you how many strange, hybrid German-English interactions I have had this semester, but I can say that I always came out okay and each one helped me to learn and understand more. Additionally, learning German helped me understand the English language more. It was really cool to make connections between the two languages and even to find strange grammar mistakes that English speakers have adopted into colloquial speech. You think you know your own language until you start learning a new one!
My knowledge and understanding of the German language helped me as I adopted Vienna as my home. I couldn’t always understand the announcements being made on the U-Bahn or the questions cashiers asked me, but I stumbled my way through and every time I had a successful interaction I was very proud of myself. No matter which program you are on or which country you study abroad in, push yourself to learn some of the language and/or to truly live as a local. I had days when I felt somewhat Viennese, and that was nice. Eventually, tourists were approaching me with navigation questions, both in English and German, and while I couldn’t always help, it was a compliment to not be taken for an American tourist myself.
Facing a foreign language and culture can be daunting, but it does not have to be a cause for anxiety or division. Embrace the challenge and interact with as many locals as you can. Take comfort in your American peers and your family and friends back home if it ever seems overwhelming. You will miss it all when you return home. You will miss the funny misunderstandings that happened because of your poor language skills. You will miss experiencing something new every day. You will miss the limitless opportunities for true learning and growth. So make the most of every single second, and talk a lot, “auf Deutsch” when possible.
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<p>Hey, y'all! I'm a cat-loving music education major from good ole Fort Worth, Texas. I sing Brahms and Mozart, but I listen to Taylor Swift, Hamilton, and much more! (My Spotify playlists says a lot about me!) I enjoy traveling because I get to meet new people, experience new places, and try new foods (okay- I'm mostly in it for the food). Follow along to see what kinds of adventures (and mishaps) I find myself involved in!</p>