In college, we were mandated to take two semesters of a language. I wasn’t too crazy about the idea until I realized that I could study abroad to meet the requirement. I’d always wanted to leave the USA, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity. At the time, I was 20 going on 21.
I decided to go to Costa Rica to study tourism and environmental science. I never had a desire to go to Costa Rica, but it was the only option I was given, and anything was better than getting stuck in another Midwest winter.
Upon arrival, we immediately started Spanish courses in small groups while living with Costa Rican families. I didn’t speak any Spanish at all, and various misunderstandings ensued throughout the semester. I absolutely hated making mistakes, but with every hiccup and embarrassing mistake, I became more fluent.
I quickly realized how much more of the local culture I had access to by understanding the local language. My social circle expanded, and I went to different readings, concerts, and clubs that I would’ve never discovered.
Once I gained confidence in my speaking abilities, I decided to backpack through Central America. Instead of staying in hotels and hostels, I was able to venture off the beaten path. I stayed with host families on banana and sugarcane plantations and worked as a waitress in bars through Workaway, all while improving my second language. Without having learned Spanish, I would’ve been totally confined to the “Gringo Trail”.
Fast forward to now. I’m fluent in Spanish and have traveled throughout Central and South America. Through investing in language learning, I was able to have a budget friendly travel experience. Being bilingual has afforded me the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of an area: where to shop and sleep on a budget, how to hitchhike and use public transit, and where to work for extra cash. I’ve formed relationships with strangers who have since become some of my closest friends, and I’ve been able to navigate hitchhiking in Colombia and Mexico. Having a second language has enhanced my travel experience. I feel more at ease socializing and am now confident enough to open a bank account, rent a house, and pay bills while living abroad.
If you are interested in having an experience like mine but don’t know where to start, visit my travel planning services page and shoot me a message. I can help you get started on planning your next backpacking trip with a free consultation.