Trust Me, You Will Learn Things

Christopher Brumm
B.A. Psychology, B.A. Spanish, M.A. Psychology
Fall 2015 – Spring 2016 Study Abroad
Burgos, Spain

For many years, I found it fascinating to listen to the stories of someone who had studied abroad, leaving me craving to make an experience of my own. After finally having the opportunity, I carry around rich memories, as well asskills that allow me to make wiser decisions, analyze more critically, and undeniably hold a higher esteem for myself. Upon departure in August 2014, the original plan was to study until December 2014 at the University of Burgos in Spain through WMU’s pre-arranged program, while living with a Spanish family. It was such an amazing experience that I returned for the Spring 2015 semester on my own, in which I attended regular classes at the university that transferred back to WMU, and lived with Spanish roommates.

Castillo del Burgos
Castillo del Burgos

Through studying abroad, I strengthened my understanding that all learning is change. I developed methods to really force the necessary changes in my repertoire, allowing me to effectively and efficiently advance my skillset. Improving my speaking and conversation took more than just going to class, and more than just common activities like going to the bar or eating out. I took extracurricular activities seriously, which involved weekly dance lessons, swimming lessons, guitar lessons, and learning to sing Spanish songs. Additionally, I once met with a group of actors for a weekend retreat to practice improvisational theatre.

Wine tasting at an authentic wine cellar
Wine tasting at an authentic wine cellar

These extracurricular activities were what really forced the changes, because they required me to listen attentively, and not just to information for a final exam. I had to listen to know what to do and how to act right in the moment. At first, I found myself in situations without any idea how to respond, but these incidents became less frequent as time went on and responding became more automatic. Throughout the second semester, it became easier to assimilate right into conversations, make jokes, and respond with much less effort.

Now, I am living in Lansing providing in-home therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder. This population is known to lack communication skills, while many individuals are completely non-verbal. My unique experience with language certainly puts me at an advantage over others in my field when analyzing the needs of the clients and forming creative approaches to teach. In Spain, there were many frustrating instances when I would be misunderstood, unable to communicate or portray my ideas clearly. Additionally, it was very discouraging to hear sound, but not be able to decipher what was said, especially when someone was expecting a response from me. Having gone through this helps me to relate to my clients as I teach them, and to understand that learning can be a slow, strenuous process.

Fiestas del Pilar - Zaragoza
Fiestas del Pilar – Zaragoza

Now that the Spanish language has become a part of me, I am excited for future opportunities in which I can use these skills. As soon as I establish myself into the field of autism, I hope to find professional activities throughout the world in which I can use Spanish. With Spanish being so prominent, there are huge portions of the information stream that are restricted from people who cannot speak the language, regardless of having Google Translate. I would like to stress to students at Western Michigan University that an experience like this is so entirely possible (and necessary) for anyone here. People commonly claim that it does not relate to their program, they do not have enough time or money, or it just does not seem feasible in some way. These are all such common misconceptions, and excuses that are too easy to make. Attaining my Master’s in Psychology was my main focus between 2012 and 2014, but I took Spanish courses during my graduate program as a secondary line of study, leaving for Burgos a month after finishing my graduate program. Additionally, several thousands of dollars in grants were available to me. Though I still had to use additional federal loans, the money that I owe still does not compare to the experience gained.

La Alhambra - Granada
La Alhambra

What I most importantly gained from studying abroad was a new sense of confidence and comfort being on my own, while focusing on a balance between group cohesion and autonomy. I had the support of the Study Abroad Counselors and Specialists from WMU, seventeen other Americans during the fall semester, a family in Spain, Spanish roommates, professors in the U.S. and Spain, Spanish classmates, friends, and other international students. These people made my trip possible, provided me with a sense of belonging, and were certainly an invaluable part of my experience. Though, not one of these people was going go with me to all the places in which I wanted to go. They had their own lives, their own preferences, and were making their own experiences. I sought out experiences that others might consider unusual, and had to walk through many doors on my own, but, time and time again, it wasincredibly comforting how many people I found waiting on the other side.

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