This is a weekly installment in a series of blog posts submitted by a team of Centre College students studying away or abroad throughout the spring semester. Learn more about Centre’s nation-leading study abroad program, a guarantee of the Centre Commitment.
A Spanish major at Centre College, Ben Bennett ’20 says he chose to study in Segovia for the spring semester to practice his Spanish speaking by “living life, making new friends and exploring new places in Spain.” On campus, Bennett is a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and the assistant to the regional manager of the Centre baseball team. After graduation, he says he hopes to pursue a career in the communications or advertising fields in hopes that his creative abilities can help someone else promote the things they are passionate about.
As a Spanish major, I considered my trip studying abroad in Spain as a time to “polish” my already casi fluente español and, as an added bonus, explore the places I have studied for 21 years. When I had to ask my host mom “what is this called?,” while pointing at a
spoon, however, I quickly realized this was not the case.
During our first conversation, I confidently intended to ask her if I should expect to see many “pets accompanying the people of Segovia.” In reality, I had unintentionally asked her if the people of Segovia “typically have many suitcases.” She kindly replied, “no more than any other people.”
One night, over dinner, I again sparked her concern, during a calm discussion about her upcoming trip to Bilbao. I calmly suggested that she “call an insurgency against the Spanish government before her trip”, to know for sure that she would be safe. (“Insurgencia” does not mean “insurance;” the word for “insurance” in Spanish is much less sinister).
In my first month in Spain, I—a person who prides himself on always being witty and well-spoken—have completely misspoken many more times than I have spoken clearly. This was initially very embarrassing and frustrating, but over time the countless moments of my shortcomings of speech have taught me a lesson that is rarely taught in a classroom: humility.
Humility in being honest with my host mom when I haven’t the slightest idea what she is talking about, even after two whole minutes of pretending like I did.
Humility in being unafraid to start a sentence without having any idea where it is going, just to make sure my host mom knows that I would like to take a conversational walk with her, even if I don’t know every step along the way.
Humility in letting a native Spanish speaker try and speak to you in English, even though there must be no possible way they could know you are American.
Humility in buckling down and asking the barista what a “donut” is called—only to learn that, in Spain, it is in fact called a “donut.” Then, not caring that she assumes this was my first time encountering a round, fried pastry.
While I was embarrassed to be reduced to the level of asking what exactly a spoon is called, it was in that space that I learned that pretending to know everything, and avoiding asking questions out of fear or embarrassment, does nothing but stop the learning process dead in its tracks. With every gaffe or simple vocabulary word I have to ask for, I am one step closer to becoming more confident in my ability to speak Spanish, and more comfortable living in a Spanish-speaking country.
This is the beautiful and terrifying reality of studying abroad. It’s also the reason Centre College is such an amazing advocate for its students, in encouraging us to experience a term abroad.
It will be embarrassing. If you are in a country that does not speak your first language, you will not be able to say simple sentences you have known since childhood. Not only will you be outside of your comfort zone, but your comfort zone will be at least a hemisphere away. But as you wander through words, public transportation centers and unfamiliar surroundings, you become more familiar with something great, more valuable than comfort—humility.
Humility is not dependent on the situation, time or place.
Take my advice: go to a college like Centre that makes it easy to study abroad. Take advantage of the opportunity. Learn humility—and with it make the world your comfort zone.
And if you go to a Spanish-speaking country, enjoy eating a nice bowl of cereal with your cuchara.
by Ben Bennett ’20
March 8, 2019