So… the national language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Which happens to be the language that I decided not to take during my sophomore year of high school because I wanted to take a math before I took the PSAT, and taking Spanish would not allow me to do so. I fell in love with the French language in 10th grade and continued to study through four levels in the three years that I had left in high school. During my second semester at Ohio State, I officially declared a French minor and am continuing my studies in college.
In the months leading up to the trip, I was super busy with rehearsals and a full course load so I didn’t really have time to learn any Spanish. I knew we would be staying with host families that have had experience housing American students before, so I expected to find that they spoke some English at a minimum. My surprise to learn that the organization that was responsible for choosing host families looked for families that specifically did not speak English quickly turned into a serious concern. Literally, I do not speak Spanish. Thats basically the extent of all I know how to say confidently. I was extremely worried when I found that my family really spoke very little English.
That being said, communication was extremely difficult for me. I understood very little of what was being said to me most of the time, and even when I did, my responses were very limited. I found that my family didn’t believe that I understood because of my face didn’t often express complete understanding. Towards the end of trip, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to communicate. I kept thinking about how I if I was in a French speaking country, I would be perfectly fine. I felt lost in a culture where I didn’t even have a reliable life boat.
Considering the fact that I entered the country with little to no Spanish knowledge, I actually learned a great deal. I can now communicate on the basic level of a 2 year old learning to speak. I do think that being thrown into a situation that I was clearly not comfortable with caused me to learn quickly — it was either sink or swim. I chose to swim… or at least stay afloat. I have developed an appreciation and interest in the Spanish language and would like to continue to grow in my speaking capabilities as I would like to return to Costa Rica in the future and often. After all, being multilingual is one of my life goals. 🙂