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Immersion camp teaches life lessons

As a person who grew up knowing she wanted to travel, the decision to go to Spain for four weeks wasn’t a difficult one. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. But there was a catch: I had to speak, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, in Spanish.

How did I come by this excellent opportunity? Middlebury Monterey Language Academy (MMLA) is an language immersion program. Immersion is the key word.

In late June, I left home unsure of what to expect. MMLA had been a part of my summers for two years now, but going to Spain was a totally different ball game. Comillas, where we stayed, is not an American tourist town, so almost no one spoke in English. When the full implications of the trip hit me, the nervousness offset my excitement. What if the people there were unwelcoming? What if they didn’t understand me? What if I didn’t understand them? What if I didn’t make any friends?

Of course, none of this happened, because I followed two simple pieces of advice.

The first piece of advice is to not be afraid of talking to people. The first week, my teacher gave us an assignment that forced me to do the one thing I feared: talk to the locals. The topic we were researching was the influence of the monarchy and Catholic Church in Spain. We knew this topic was controversial—65 percent of Spaniards want a referendum to switch the country from amonarchy to a republic—which only added to my fear.

My interview was with the owner of an ice cream store. I went up to her and said in shaky Spanish, “Can we interview you for our project?” Surprisingly, she didn’t lash out at me for asking the questions. She was passionate, which I expected. She listened to my questions with understanding and didn’t make me feel like an idiot. Although I knew that people in Spain were typically very friendly, her amiability gave me the confidence to ask others questions, as well.

The second piece of advice is to be open to the culture and new opportunities. If I had to define my experience in Comillas, it would be with one word: opportunity. Whenever we had the chance to take part in some part of the culture, I always jumped on it. One time, we were going to go down to a festival, but it had been raining about an hour earlier. One of the teachers thought that they would not hold the festival, and the other thought they would. Therefore, the latter took a group of about 15 students down to the beach. It turned out that the Comillans made it work. There was a barbecue, music, jumping over fires and fireworks. By embracing an uncertain opportunity, I ended up having one of my favorite nights in Spain.

In retrospect, my expectations for failure were ridiculous. As soon as I ditched the fear to speak, a whole new world opened up for me. I learned the most by asking questions and discussing topics with the locals. By taking chances and trying new things, I learned more about Comillas and Spain in general. As my confidence in speaking Spanish grew, my language competency grew. By the time I finished the camp, gone was the girl who said “Sorry” every time she messed up a verb, and in her place was a girl who could speak rapidly and with an accent. I left Comillas with 45 new relationships that will last a lifetime, and a new understanding of the world we lived in.

—Aspegren, a junior, is a Copy Editor.

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