When I first decided to study abroad in Granada, I thought I had it in the bag. I took three years of Spanish in high school, I traveled outside of the US before, and I went to all of my school’s study abroad orientations. But the first week I lived in Granada I realized how wrong I was and how far I had to go. The Spaniards spoke faster than I anticipated, and I wasn’t prepared for the accent or slang I heard in the streets, which made understanding conversations harder. Moreover, most of the people in my program came into the program knowing or at least understanding more Spanish than me, being native speakers, or taking at least one or two classes in college as well. I felt isolated and constantly out of the loop.
I realized FOMO is not just a fear of missing out on experiences, but also on conversations, inside jokes, and making friends with locals. While I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the shock of how embarrassed I felt at being out of the loop, here are five tips that I found helped me mitigate FOMO and manage the language barrier a bit more:
- Learn a new word every day. Learning a new language can be overwhelming. Something that I found really helped me was to break learning down into smaller units. I would sit every morning and would think of a word I still don’t know, write it down, and write the translation down as well. Words of the day are a fun and accessible way to increase your vocabulary and build your confidence as well. It is also quick: it takes no more than two minutes but goes a long way.
- Call your parents or friends and share with them what you are feeling. The language barrier can lead to isolation. The best way to deal with loneliness is to share it with others. Calling my mom didn’t always help with advice, but just hearing her voice made me feel better because I know she didn’t care if I knew perfect Spanish or not. Alternatively, if the call just ended up with me being annoyed, at least I wasn’t focusing on my loneliness anymore :)
- Say yes to invitations from local students, and don’t be afraid to practice your Spanish and English with them—most of them will understand you! Local students can be intimidating. They talk fast and have an understanding of the area that is perhaps greater than what you have. Hanging out with them can be really scary, and saying no feels safer than saying yes and risking humiliation or more FOMO. Yet, once I started saying yes and stepping outside of my comfort zone, I realized many of them are just like me. They are worried about speaking in English, they are figuring out life in college, and they like seeing the best views of the city late at night. I still struggled with keeping up with the entire conversation, but I found that talking with the students was less intimidating as time went on and it ended up being a great way to practice my Spanish in a social setting rather than just sticking to the same phrases all of the time.
- Proactively plan excursions to take your mind off of it and invite your peers! One of the reasons why I felt the impacts of the language barrier and FOMO so greatly was because I didn’t feel like I had control of the situation. To help balance that feeling of loss, I started taking the initiative of going out and visiting places I wanted to see around Granada. I would encourage you to research the city you live in and come up with a list of things you want to see. Find time in your day-to-day to go to those places, and invite some people from your program to go with you! It will help with the loneliness and facilitate building a sense of control and stronger relationships with your peers.
- Find people you trust. The best way to get ahold of a new language is to practice speaking it over and over. And over. Find people around you that speak the language better than you and ask them questions about phrases and words. Try holding short conversations in Spanish about your day or a place you went to see. These people can be anyone—for me, it was even the program director sometimes. These conversations are low-stakes and will help you develop an understanding and make you more comfortable with the language.
I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me. I am no expert in Spanish, but sometimes trying is all that matters.