What is "Immersion" and Why Is It Worth It?
By: Madison Zeller
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When you hear about language “immersion” programs, what comes to mind? The word “immersion” can sound daunting because it suggests the exclusive use of a language, deep mental involvement, and a general lifestyle transformation. However, it is important to note that the reason these aspects may sound scary is because they are powerful – they have the potential to shed insight on and breed self-assurance in students who take the plunge and immerse themselves. To offer fresh student perspectives, I interviewed three Magellan travelers who studied abroad in Spain sometime within the past two years; they and myself attest to the magic of gaining an international perspective, an academic edge, and a redefined sense of fun in light of trying new things.
The world is so much bigger than the confines of home, and studying abroad is an opportunity to experience another culture firsthand. While school and home life may seem ordinary and repetitive domestically, internationally they become exciting windows to a foreign place. “I loved going to school every day and being in classes with kids from all around the world,” Dru Mulligan told me. “It did not feel like we were being taught because the teachers made it so fun. We also had a lot of discussions so we could practice speaking Spanish. I also became really close with these two girls from Italy. One of the girls and I still talk over Facebook about once a week. It's really cool because where I live not everybody has a friend from Europe!”
While the homestay portion of a program may be the most anxiety-provoking, I’d like to argue that it is the most precious part of an immersion trip. Yes, it pushes you out of your comfort zone. But what you get in return is invaluable. Dickson Tsai noted, “When you’re in a group, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on around you. The experience really helps you get acclimated to life in Spain versus life as a tourist in a hotel.” Living with a native host family is markedly different than simply staying in a foreign country: you are a guest in a home, you have a seat at the dinner table, and you build a relationship with your host mom or family, which ultimately fosters a sense of comfort. “Leading up to the trip, I didn’t know what to expect. However, once we descended from the bus and I finally met my host family in Salamanca, I felt at ease. Who knew that more than 5,700 miles from my family, I could feel at home,” Monica Castro reminisced.
Furthermore, being immersed means learning a language exclusively through native speakers. This gives students an academic edge that boosts confidence and serves as great preparation for college. Dickson said he definitely felt prepared for the Spanish class he signed up for his first semester at UC Berkeley, which focused on the reading and analysis of literary texts. He recalled, “In high school, I didn’t have the chance to learn from native speakers. There are lots of nuances that schools in the U.S. just didn’t cover. You miss a lot until you actually go there [to Spain].” Dru, too, saw the academic benefits of immersion: “After I returned from Spain my first year and returned to school, I went from being the worst at Spanish in my class to the best!”
Besides providing new cultural perspectives and chances to leap ahead in your language classes, let’s not forget that immersion programs are, perhaps most importantly, meant to be fun. Favorite workshops and activities included a scavenger hunt in Galicia, pottery ceramics workshops, cooking classes, and salsa and flamenco dance lessons. Monica shared, “I attended flamenco classes where it was okay if I danced with two left feet, and cooking classes learning to concoct ensaladilla russa, a typical potato salad-like dish that is customary in Spain.”
So what is immersion? It is studying and living abroad, learning a language by constantly hearing it and speaking it, and discovering another culture by being part of it. Why is it worth it? Take it from these three: “It wasn’t one moment that really stood out. It was all of the encounters,” said Dickson. After attending two summer Magellan programs Dru remarked she “can’t decide which one was best” what she agrees on is her improvement to speak effectively Spanish. She adds “I am a much more confident person now, traveling abroad has helped me to act more responsibly. College is now the next step”. And, as Monica stated, “I longed to simply be back.” And she will be soon. She has signed up to the June Magellan program to Spain and has made sure to enroll some high school friends too. It seems their passion for travel and love for Spain is about to be a lifelong affair.