A lot of people ask me why I chose to study abroad in Salamanca when I had other choices in Spain such as Barcelona or the even more metropolitan Madrid. My answer, always the same, is simple: I wanted a more authentic, intimate Spanish experience. It’s not to say that if I had picked these other cities, I wouldn’t have gotten the experience that I am currently having. But after having visited Barcelona this past weekend, I knew that these experiences, and interactions weren’t something I’d engage with every day.
Barcelona was—to put it simply—a great time. From the moment I arrived in the big airport, filled with people from all over the world, speaking different languages, I knew that there was a larger amount of diversity within the city, mostly because of the tourism. The city was lively, very busy and of course, colorful in the various areas where Gaudí left his mark. One thing I immediately noticed was that many people spoke English. And if they knew you were American or spoke English, they were going to proceed to speak to you in English. Although it is nice at times to take a “language break,” this
threw me off. I did not come to Spain to speak English, nor do I really want to. So, when someone would speak to me in English, I would rarely respond in English. Most of the time, I would respond in Spanish or if I had the first word, I’d always speak in Spanish. Doing this, responding in Spanish and speaking first, usually forced the other person to continue to speak to me in Spanish. I realize that some people may want to practice their English, and usually I am willing to help, but I don’t think that was the case this time around. Thousands of people pass through Barcelona every single day, so I’m sure they will have plenty of opportunities to practice—that is if practicing the language is what they’re going for. I think people just assume that I’d prefer English or that I’m not capable of communicating in Spanish and it turned out to be a little frustrating to me. I’m sure they meant no harm, but one could imagine how it could be somewhat discouraging. I knew I was going to be speaking in English with my friends that weekend, so if I had the chance to speak to a native speaker in Spanish, I was going to take it. Now this may come off as somewhat selfish, but this is reason #2 as to why I chose Salamanca. To be “selfish.” I came here to practice the language and soak up the salmantino culture. To indulge in a different lifestyle that is much more relaxed, one that moves much slower than life in the states.
In Salamanca, almost no one speaks English. And those that do are usually students. I have befriended a few Spanish students in Salamanca who speak English or want to practice their English so we do a little exchange: some days we speak in English, some in Spanish. Sometimes they’ll text me in Spanish and I will respond in English and vice versa. We change things up and speak to each other in different ways that benefit us both. So that brings us to reason #3: Salamanca = little to no English. In Salamanca, I am obligated to speak and practice Spanish. All my classes are in Spanish. My host family does not speak English. It’s Spanish pretty much all day, everyday. And with such a high percentage of English speakers in places like Barcelona and Madrid, I feel like I would easily neglect Spanish and not be able to progress.
While visiting Barcelona, I spoke to a few of my friends who were studying in both Barcelona and Madrid. They told me they barely use their Spanish and when they do it’s usually to order food or a drink. They said that since so many people speak English and since they’re so accustomed to speaking it, it’s like they’re speaking is on autopilot. It helps that my program is a direct matriculation program, where in their case, their programs are all taught in English except for their Spanish language course. Again, this is not to say that my program is better than theirs, but if you want to become fluent and immerse yourself in the language, Salamanca is the place to dive into.
Barcelona was an enjoyable adventure thanks to the wonderful sights (like the glorious La Sagrada Familia), my friends, and my opportunity to live out my dream as a Cheetah Girl (you better believe I walked through Park Güell listening to the iconic “Strut” from the Cheetah Girls 2
soundtrack). Barcelona provided me with the bustling city vibes that a part of me missed, however, I also missed how cheap everything was in Salamanca in comparison to Barcelona (reason #4: Salamanca is very affordable, and if you’re like me and LOVE to eat, food in Salamanca is much cheaper compared to other cities!). More importantly, I cannot emphasize how much I missed my bed in “my house,” here in the heart of Salamanca. It’s crazy how one can miss a place that they just called home, in such a short amount of time.
And in case you’re wondering how I’ve come to be so comfortable in such an unfamiliar city, I have my host family, program director, and Salamanca itself to thank for easing me through this adjustment.