Learning by immersion is placing yourself into another culture in order to truly understand the customs of that culture. But it’s so much more than that. Learning by immersion is scary and frustrating and overwhelming. But it’s also rewarding and unforgettable. Here is what learning by immersion is for me.
Day one of living in Costa Rica was overwhelming. You take a plane to a place far away to live with a family you’ve never met who speak a language you may not understand. I didn’t know all that much about Costa Rica when I came. I knew they spoke Spanish and I knew that I was awful at Spanish, and that’s about it. When my plane landed I was with other American students and it still hadn’t quite sunk in what I was about to begin. But it hit pretty hard night one. I remember taking a bus to our part of the city and sitting next to one of my housemates. I remember meeting my other housemates as we got off the bus to meet our host mom. We walked to our house together, everything was different from what I’d known. After a bit of time our host mom called us for dinner and soon after we meet our host dad. They talked for a while. I understood no Spanish. It was at that moment that I began to really realize what I got myself into. I had thought that I knew some Spanish, or at least the basics, but as it turned out, I was wrong. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know where I was or how to communicate and I was scared. I went to my housemates in tears. I had just met them hours ago and I was already fighting back tears trying to talk to them. But it gets better.
I took Spanish 101 the first month that I lived in Costa Rica. I loved the class and I learned so much more than I had taking class after class of high school Spanish. After that I started taking Basic Spanish for Health Professionals. I’m half way through that course now. And sometimes I still get frustrated and I’m not by any means fluent, but every day I get a little bit closer. I can now have conversations with people in Spanish, and the best part is that people now understand what I’m trying to say. And for the most part, I understand at least most of what they’re saying too. In fact, now I start to get a bit tripped up on English words. I spent a solid day and a half trying to remember the English word for ‘crutch’.
So I guess that my piece of unsolicited advice to anyone considering learning by immersion is this: yes, it can be frustrating and overwhelming and sometimes scary, but it’s really worth it, no regrets. Be ready for an emotional rollercoaster and the adventure of a lifetime.