Abigail Benz spent part of a summer in a Spanish Immersion program with the Middlebury Interactive Language Academy.
Beep, Beep, Beep. It was seven o’clock in the morning on my first day at the Spanish Academy. “Buenos dias, Abigail. Tiempo para desayunar,” said my roommate. My head was spinning, and I was confused. I was thinking in English but I was supposed to be speaking Spanish. Welcome to the immersion experience!
My first morning went fairly smoothly (cereal? check!), but I hit my first roadblock at lunch. I wanted some pepper from the middle of the table but it was just out of my reach. In English this would be no problem. A quick, “Please pass the pepper,” and in no time, I’d be seasoning my food. My brain, however, could not think quickly in Spanish, and I didn’t know how to say “pepper” in Spanish. Long story short, I went without pepper at meals until I was able to figure out how to say the word correctly. Looking back on the “pepper problem,” it was silly for me not to ask for help. Everyone is incredibly supportive and understands the challenges of seasoning food in a foreign language!
As the first day continued, I realized that there was a lot of new vocabulary that I did not know. It was very different from my Spanish class in school where I could ask for a word in English and get the answer immediately. At the Language Academy, I needed to describe the word I was looking for and this is where the “fun” began.
To make myself understood, I performed charades and drew pictures to communicate my questions. At first I was uncomfortable and quiet because I could not figure out how to express myself in Spanish. By the end of the first day, my head was pounding, and I was exhausted, both mentally, from thinking in a new language and physically, from my salsa dancing class and ultimate frisbee games.
I remember going to my dorm room and wanting to cry thinking, “What did I get myself into?” and “How am I going to do this for a month when I barely survived one day?” I came to learn that everyone feels this way for a day or two. I took a deep breath and tried to relax, and as the days turned into weeks, things got much easier. My Spanish vocabulary exploded. I came out of my shell. And I turned into a confident speaker.
The No. 1 thing to remember is just to be patient with yourself. Nobody expects you to be thinking in your target language on the first day of camp. It takes time to adjust to a new environment, schedule and language. Always know that you are not the only one thinking, “What did I just sign up for?” Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. So here’s my advice for the first couple of days: Don’t panic, it gets better, and please pass la pimienta.