First, a little background information. I lived with a family in Zaragoza, Spain, teaching/tutoring the two boys in English. It was an absolutely incredible experience where I learned more about myself than I had learned in the previous 22 years. While its no surprise that traveling by yourself forces you to adapt, here are some of the things that I learned.
The influence of American Culture
Whether you like it or not, pop culture is our main export. This was brutally obvious to me within about two days. It seemed like every pub that I went to played the Top 40 mix. Even the eight year-old I was teaching could recite a song in perfect English, despite not really knowing a single word in the song.
The importance of the English Language
English is about as close as it gets to there being a universal language. My host family told me that it is practically a necessity in Spain to speak English. It honestly made me feel grateful that I was brought up in an English speaking country, because it gave me an advantage to learning some of our crazy grammatical rules. There was a night I went out in Madrid and I was standing in a circle talking with people from Greece, Germany, Poland, England, and Australia; language of choice, English.
The importance of knowing another language
While English has 335 million speakers worldwide, that leaves quite a few people who don’t. Knowing another language doesn’t just give you a way to ask where the bathroom is, but it gives you an open door to other cultures. One of my favorite memories was going to the local brewery and taking a tour. By knowing Spanish I was able to understand the tour guide and shoot the shit with eleven middle-aged Spanish men, instead of taking a solo tour in broken English.
The importance of being open
If you’re going to travel anywhere in the world, and you want to use it as a learning experience, you have to be willingly open. I know people whose idea of traveling is “doing the same things I do at home, but somewhere else.” If you’re going to learn, you have to want to learn. You can read all of the TripAdvisor reviews that you want to, but actually walking down alleys off of the main square is how you find local gems.
The importance of staying connected with the World: Read an internationally focused newspaper, and watch the local news programs. Nothing makes you feel like a global citizen quite like getting different perspectives on major issues from people across the planet. Feeling like a global citizen tends to make you a much more understanding person.
There you go. Get out there and find yourself.
Editor’s note: Check out some of the other pieces we have written on travel and language learning: