A period of study in a Spanish speaking country is highly recommended for fluency in Spanish, whether your major is in Spanish or not. But neither language acquisition nor cultural awareness can be achieved by osmosis. The key to taking advantage of any stay in another country is the individual student’s determination to take full advantage of every opportunity to leave the comfort zone and interact with people. Language learning is an active process that requires determination and commitment. The following guidelines and recommendations offer advice about finding the best possible environment for improving linguistic and cultural competence.
Your first step is to pay a visit to the Bowdoin Off-Campus Study Office (OCS) and webpage. They will provide you with the Program Option list and tell you about important deadlines in the application process. There is a considerable number of programs for US students abroad; it is a growing field with no guarantees of quality. Choose a program that demands a high GPA. The rigor of the program and the academic preparation of your fellow students are essential. If the academic level of the program is not challenging, you will learn less.
If you can avoid a city with a large number of tourists, you will enhance your chances of finding opportunities to practice your Spanish and remove a layer of temptations to hang out with English speakers.
The closer you can get to Spanish speakers of your own age, the better will be your chances of significant progress in your language skills and in cultural understanding. Programs that provide direct enrollment in classes at a local university are preferable to "island programs" which teach their own classes in a center devoted solely to US students. Such programs as Middlebury in South America are the best model, giving the students independence and the greatest opportunity to meet people of their own age, as well as the chance to experience the educational system in the target country.
Many programs offer the opportunity to take some course at the local university, but in some cases you may have to insist on this option since it involves more work for the local administrators. If the option is there, you should definitely take advantage of it, even if that causes some frustration; the culture of universities is very different elsewhere in the world, in part because in most countries they are public and essentially free. But the linguistic and cultural benefits can be enormous.
A maximum of three of the required courses for the major may come from your off-campus study for a semester (four if you go for a year). If you have not taken 209 and 210 before you go away (we require that at least one of these courses be taken on campus), you must take at least one course that deals historically with literature in order to satisfy the prerequisites for a 300-level course. Only one course taken abroad can count as a 300-level course towards the major, and it should typically deal with cultural production or the humanities (such as art, film, history, or literature).
Even at Bowdoin, it is hard to pick courses a year ahead, so you should do what you can in terms of planning and seeking advice from department members. You should have in mind the kind of courses you are looking for, but the final choice will often have to wait until you are on the ground. You will need to give a provisional list on the Bowdoin's Off-Campus Study application form based on courses offered currently at the university, those the program says have been taken in the past, or even those that past students tell us about on their evaluation forms. You should list more courses than you actually need to take for a full load. If, upon arrival, you have to take different courses than those provisionally approved on the OCS application, you must email a Spanish professor a list of the courses you are registered for on site, to be sure that we will approve credit for the course you take.
If there is an opportunity to do some kind of internship (often called a "Práctica") you should definitely take it; it is often the most intensive language-learning environment since you will be using your Spanish in an ongoing way. Such an experience often provides the best opportunity to meet people through whom you can become more integrated into the local community, which is essential to your linguistic and cultural learning. On the best programs, internships are provided in connection with a weekly seminar and a report. In these cases, as long as the internship takes place entirely in Spanish, one course credit toward the major can be awarded. A Spanish professor at Bowdoin needs to pre-approve this internship as a potential credit toward the major before your departure.
Upon your return from your program, and before we can award off-campus credits toward your major, you are required to submit to a faculty member of the Spanish division of the department of Romance Languages a three-to-four-page paper in Spanish. The paper will describe your program and comment on the academic and cultural experience, telling us what you learned, the specific classes you took, and how your worldview has changed. How do the specific courses you took fit into your studies of Hispanic cultures? How do you think these courses complement those previously taken at Bowdoin? You will also be asked to complete an evaluation for the Off-Campus Study Office, which will provide us with useful information for future advising.
OFF-CAMPUS STUDY IN A SPANISH-SPEAKING COUNTRY CHECK LIST
*If you are studying other languages, different policies may apply. Please check with faculty teaching each language for accurate information.