Lucy is a first-year with no declared major yet. Lucy spent a gap year abroad and describes the experience below.
After graduating high school, I decided to take a gap year in Spain. My year was split into two very different portions. The first part of the year I lived in Madrid as an au-pair. It was nice because I was only taking care of one child so it wasn’t too much to handle, plus I could spend the weekdays exploring the city while the child was in school. I had access to a lot of great places to visit and spent most of my time in museums or language classes. Reading in museums was really helpful for my language skills because the short labels were clear and easy to understand. I was supposed to get practice with my language skills at the home I stayed in, but was also responsible for helping them with English and that kind of took priority over my own learning.
The second part of my year however was much more fulfilling as far as language study goes. I spent the time participating in WOOF programs (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Malaga. There I lived with a Spanish man who spoke absolutely no English. Having to interact with him only in Spanish was incredibly useful for me to constantly be using and improving my language skills. And then working on the WOOF Farms was great too because it was full of really tactile, site-specific vocabulary to learn. Some of it was too specific and not useful outside of the job, but intensive practice is always helpful. There’s also just lots of downtime for communication with everyone else working on the farm, so no matter what you’re doing you’re always getting in some language practice. It’s the idea of learning on the job taken to a whole new level!
It’s interesting to reflect on how prepared I felt going into the year and how much changed over my time there. I had taken AP Spanish and was pretty solid in my skills, but I honestly wasn’t prepared at all. Speaking with people in Spain is totally different from learning in an American classroom. The speed alone makes it so much more difficult, not to mention vocabulary and certain phrases or expressions are just so different than what I’d been taught. The tricky thing in conversing with native speakers is really just getting to a point where you’re both comfortable. At first, there’s a lot of hesitation and figuring out where you each are. You have to give them the idea that YOU’RE comfortable and it becomes more natural for them. So it’s honestly a lot of “fake-it-’til-you-make-it”, but once you reach understanding, it all kind of falls into place. Nothing can prepare you for such an on-site experience though, and I’m sure nothing could give quite the same experience either.