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A Journey in Embarrassment and Why I’d Do it All Over Again

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My 2022 New Year’s resolution was to embarrass myself more. 

This resolution did not derive from masochism. Rather, I wanted to detach from my need to be in control of how I was perceived. I wanted to be wrong more so I could become more comfortable with learning. I wanted to be laughed at and know it wasn’t personal; I wanted my self-security to come from within, rather than from others perceiving me as smart, funny, capable, etc.   

Learning a new language while studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile forced me not to be afraid of embarrassing myself. The best way to learn a new language is by using it to meet new people, try new things, and get around a new city. This trial by fire meant improving my Spanish after every misunderstanding and miscommunication. This not only made me infinitely more confident in my Spanish but infinitely more confident in my ability to make new friends, thrive in new environments, and go with the flow.  

To convince you to challenge yourself and study abroad in a country with a language barrier, I’ve compiled my top three most memorable embarrassing moments that I grew from while abroad. 

Top 3 Gringa Greatest Hits  

  1. Coming back from a night out, my friend and I didn’t feel like walking up the hill to our houses. We decided to split the $3 Uber. (Sidenote: Ubers in Valparaíso and its sister city, Viña Del Mar, are usually between $3 and $5. You rarely need them because the public transportation is so good, but it’s great for budgeting.) I was trying to make light conversation with the driver about how short the drive was, and said, “Somos peligrosas.” What I was trying to say was, “Somos perezosas,” or “We are lazy,” but what I actually said was, “We are dangerous.” Good thing it was a short drive!  

Learning moment: I’ll never forget the difference between these two words again! 

  1. On one of my outings with my host parents with their son and his partner, I turned to their son’s partner and, very confidently, attempted to make a joke. She sort of squinted at me and then told me she had no idea what I was saying. While my host parents had grown accustomed to my American-accented Spanish, she had not. As a perennially charming person, not being able to be understood even when I was technically speaking correctly was a blow to my confidence.  

Learning moment: When you can’t be funny with your words, resort to slapstick humor! 

  1. My first month of classes in August, a man at the metro station asked me, “Qué hora es?” which means “What time is it?” Silly me thought he was hitting on me, so I smiled and said, “Estoy bien, gracias” (I’m good, thanks). Now, this man really needed to know the time and he really needed me to be the one to tell him, so he asked again, and then again, his irritation clearly growing. When he aggressively tapped his wrist on the fourth attempt, I finally got it. Needless to say, I was mortified (and definitely ego-bruised that he wasn’t, indeed, flirting with me).  

Learning moment: The exact same thing happened at the end of my semester in November (do Chileans just not wear watches??). This time, I paused, realized what he was saying, and answered correctly. I finally got my comprehension of Chilean-accented Spanish down.  

Embarrassing myself was a necessary step to being able to communicate abroad. I feel I can not only understand and be understood in Spanish now, but understanding the notoriously difficult Chilean Spanish is like understanding a secret code. From joking with my host mom over shared meals to hosting a Friendsgiving almost entirely in Spanish to traveling to the south of Chile and getting invited to an asado with Chilean students on our last night there, the embarrassment was well worth it.  

Avni Wadhwani is a student at Mt. Holyoke College and studied abroad with IFSA’s Chilean Universities Program, Valparaiso in the Fall 2022 semester. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.