Traveling in Spain gave me more than an opportunity to see the Alhambra. It gave me the opportunity to look at how I learn things and how I cope with challenges that are outside of my usual experiences.
Shopping, dining out, asking directions, following directions, listening to tour guides, reading signs.
Each time I was faced with something I didn’t understand, especially when I was failing to accomplish what I wanted, I thought about what my students must experience when I throw something new them. I started to make a list of coping strategies that I was using. Some of them worked; some of them didn’t.
Shopping: when shopping for supplies for the apartment I relied on my knowledge of food names from my restaurant days. I watched what others did in the produce section to get fruits and vegetables weighed. I made one mistake. I grabbed what I thought was toilet tissue and purchased paper towels. Right shape, right material, wrong product. That’s like choosing ‘than’ when you wanted ‘then’.
Dining out: coping strategies included using visual cues and prior knowledge.
Asking directions? Izquierdo and derecha I knew, and having a map that I could draw on was useful. Visual cues (which way are they pointing?) and staying calm helped.
Taking a tour that was in Spanish was always interesting. I would try to catch as many cognates as I could, and if there were any English cues I tried to grab them. I let myself be immersed in the language during a tour. In that moment there were no consequences for not understanding.
So, I learned a lot about myself in Spain. Things I love, things that frighten me, experiences I will always remember. It’s good to be a student again.