Overcoming Language Barriers and Culture Shock

Guest Post by: Marketing and International Business Junior Kristina Moutafov. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient who participated on Foster Exchange at University of Navarra in Pamplona,Spain.

As my plane landed in Pamplona, Spain, I couldn’t help thinking “I’m crazy for going abroad and taking classes in Spanish.” My biggest fear was whether I would be able to communicate with Spanish speakers, and how I would be able to adjust to a culture that is different in so many aspects from American culture.

Having attended classes in Spanish and conversing with native students for over a month now, it got better. When I first started, it was easy to get frustrated when I didn’t understand parts of what my professor was saying, or to feel embarrassed when I had to ask someone to repeat themselves multiple times. However, I’ve also found that people are incredibly helpful and eager to teach. They politely correct me when I make a mistake, but also offer support and words of encouragement. Noticing my own progress through my increased comprehension and ability to have a conversation has made the frustration fade away. My biggest piece of advice to anyone facing the same fear is to force yourself to speak as much as possible. Push yourself outside your comfort zone, no matter how scary it seems. I have found people to be much more supportive than I initially thought, and there is no way to improve without practicing and making mistakes, as embarrassing as it may feel.

Another struggle I faced was culture shock when I arrived in Spain. As someone adapted to stores constantly being open in Seattle, I’ve had to switch my routine to most stores being closed during afternoon siestas and on Sundays. Plans are made much more slowly, and usually last minute, which for someone who values organization and certainty as much as I do, was difficult to get used to. The best way I found to deal with the culture shock was to switch my perspective. I’ve grown to appreciate the philosophy of Spain that there is more to life than work. Family, friends, and leisure are important as well, and having so much time off allows for enjoying life beyond a job. The lack of emphasis on planning has helped me become more spontaneous, taking last minute trips to Southern Spain and enjoying things as they happen, rather than always thinking about the future.

Living abroad is always scary, especially when the language and culture are completely foreign. There will always be challenges, frustrations, and problems that arise. However, learning to overcome them and appreciate the journey has been one of the most valuable things I’ve learned while abroad.