The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Columnist: Going far, far away

Short of buying a winning lottery ticket, studying abroad is one of the most valuable things you can do while in college.

Not only does it give you a chance to see other parts of the world while bumbling around in a comical American manner, blatantly mispronouncing important words such as “toilet.” But it also lets you in on the little secret that foreigners are just as crazy as we are, though they tend to drive smaller cars.

“I aged nearly 10 years that day, but hey, after that,
campus life is a piece of cake.”

In the global community in which we live, this is a very important lesson.

Story continues below advertisement

You come across all sorts.

On a trip to Italy, the 50 retirees in our tour group had some wine, got up on a deck in Venice and proceeded to belt out the Spanish national anthem at passersby. This was shortly after they nearly tipped their gondolas and gondolier into the canal during a water fight.

Alumni Study Abroad Fair
Time: 3 to 5 p.m.
Date: Oct. 2
Place: Council Fire Room, Davies Center

My host mother liked to clean the kitchen at 5 a.m. with what sounded like a weed whacker, and she swore up and down that her cat was laughing at her when it pooped in the bath tub. Random people come up to you in the streets to tell you that you look like a newscaster, or that you look lost; do you need directions? After a while, you stop thinking of the country’s inhabitants as “them,” and start considering them “we.”

But it’s not all introspection.

I studied abroad in Spain, and my roommate and I had many adventures, such as getting lost in every major city in Spain, Portugal and Italy, partying in Tenerife for Carnival, and shaving our legs in the bidet.

You may think you are grown up now, living away from home and sorting your whites from your darks, but just wait until you realize you have missed your flight to Italy due to time zone changes and must communicate your entire situation in Spanish to an impatient travel agent over the phone.

I aged nearly 10 years that day, but hey, after that, campus life is a piece of cake.

Mostly though, studying abroad is just fun. You meet new people, you see amazing things and you get a taste of what life outside the United States is like.

And, even better, you get to clear up stereotypes people may have about the United States.

We had the opportunity to tell skeptical Spaniards that no, we do not all venerate G.W. Bush as a great president, and no, we do not live like the actors in Beverly Hills 90210.

We did have to concede, however, that we do like ketchup with our fries. But progress in terms of cultural understanding was made.

If you’re traveling to a non-English-speaking country, you may worry that your language skills are not up to snuff. Don’t worry about it – just beware the cognates.

For example, in Spanish, the word for “prophylactics” is what native English speakers would assume to be the word for “food preservatives.”

I thought I was fairly competent in my speaking abilities, but when it came time to talk to an actual Spanish person, what first came out was this garbled clot of random verbs and nouns that even I didn’t understand. This is partly because I was jet-lagged and partly because language classes use books that are obsessed with things like record players and butcher shops instead of useful vocabulary.

Future language teachers, hear me now: screw the butcher shop. Never once did I, or anyone else I know who studied abroad, need to mention it in their stay.

Luckily, we always had good teachers who also taught the basics, so we were eventually able to produce useful sentences, such as “Stay away from me, you perverted construction worker,” “What do you mean, I have to pay to use the bathroom, which smells of dead meat?” and “Excuse me, there are three drunken Welshmen in our hostel room.”

Although it took time to adjust to that level of fluency, the proud time did arrive when I was able to tell my host mother, with total confidence, that there were condoms in the peanut butter. If I can do it, you can too.

I can’t talk about all the great things study abroad does for you here, but the study abroad fair is next week and they can fill you in and tell you their embarrassing stories. You won’t want to miss it.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Columnist: Going far, far away