Opening Doors to the World

Thinking about going on exchange but nervous about the prospect of learning a new language? Have you ever known someone who was just “naturally” good at languages? Someone who seemed to just be able to pick up the cadence and accent of a particular language with the most infuriating and discouraging ease? Or perhaps you’ve heard the common misconception that it becomes increasingly difficult to learn a language after the age of 25? Whatever the reason may be, many people feel that learning a new language is simply too daunting and time consuming an endeavour to undertake.

When I arrived in Germany in 2012 for a year-long exchange at Humboldt University in Berlin, I had taken up to German 210 at UBC and I thought I had a pretty good handle on the language. People told me I was good, that I had the language acquisition “gift”. But after a few days trying to find my way around the city, my confidence was shattered. It’s one thing to learn in the classroom and another to be in a place where that language is spoken by everyone around you, even the babies. I made it through the initial shock, though, and turned out to have the most enriching year of my life. I also came to realize that the language-learning “gift” is a complete myth; what enables you to learn a language is practice, something you will get a lot of if you are living in a place where your language of choice is spoken.

What made my experience in Berlin so worthwhile was not only the fact that I was living and studying in one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in Europe, although that was certainly part of it. The thing that made my experience more than just an extended vacation in a foreign city was my conversations with everyday Berliners. This was daunting at first, but I soon learned that people were appreciative of my efforts to learn their language and their patience and encouragement kept me going.

So if you are thinking of going on exchange at some point during your Undergrad (and I strongly recommend it!), don’t let a foreign language scare you away. It does require commitment and hard work, but going to a place where that language is spoken is the best way to pick it up!

Check out some of the ways you can study abroad through UBC including the exchange program Go Global, research abroad, and way more at this link: http://students.ubc.ca/career/international-experiences

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