Language Barriers

two women eating ice cream

“But I don’t speak the language,” is one thing I’ve heard frequently from students wanting to study abroad in a foreign country. However, that should NOT be a factor keeping you from going overseas. Traveling in Europe made me feel so incompetent as an American. Five of the six countries we visited, English was not the first language. Sometimes it wasn’t even the second or third language, yet everyone (or so it seemed) spoke fluent English.

If you’re worried about traveling in Europe or Asia, IBS is the perfect opportunity for you. You’ll have leaders that know how to get around and some will even speak the native language!

All the presenters at the business meetings will be completely understandable, so you’ll have nothing to worry about. Every day the group will meet and go over basic, “hello’s, thank you’s” and other little phrases in the language of the country you’re in.

On a day-to-day basis, the toughest part of not understanding a language is ordering food! In Germany, some foods on a menu are multiple syllables and there is no attempting to decipher the word. There’s lots of pointing at menus and hoping for the best. Or if you’re picky about food (like me) you may want to go to a grocery store and buy some fruits and crackers. Or if foreign food completely scares you, there’s most likely a McDonald’s right around the corner.

six students eating dinner
One specific experience I always think about when I recall my Europe trip was from Italy. A small group of us decided to go horseback riding in the countryside of Verona. We arrived at this amazing barn with animals everywhere! It was so nice to be greeted by dogs, cats, and horses.

A woman, a few years older than us came out and realized we didn’t speak Italian. She kept profusely apologizing to us for her “horrible English.” Although, from where we all stood, she was an incredible communicator. She was on horseback but consistently kept conversations going with all of us. After riding through the vineyards, our guide took us into the barn to show us a foal that was only a couple months old. Our guide was eagerly asking us the English words for things around us. She would say the Italian word while pointing at the object then nod and ask, “What do you call…” We had fun teaching each other simple words in each of our own languages.

horseback riding at dusk
Once we reached London, there was a slight adjustment because all of a sudden we could understand the conversations being held on the streets around us. Although, sometimes the British slang was just as hard to understand as German or French.

If you’re scared about navigating in a country, use the wifi in the hotel to map out the general area of where you want to go. When using the metro, make sure you know your stop, and learn the endpoints! That’ll ensure you don’t get on a train traveling the wrong way. Sometimes a tree might fall and block the metro system causing you to get on a bus. Bus transportation is a little tougher to navigate. Thankfully we ran into a group of American students who offered to help us make sure we got off at the right stop. (That’s when we were going to Disneyland Paris.)

students visiting disney world in paris
Language barriers will cause you to come home with hilarious stories of misunderstanding, random food, and mixed up travel situations. A little apprehension is completely normal when going overseas. International Business Seminars facilitates so much, so you know you’re always safe and will always get to the right place at the right time. It is an amazing experience to be abroad, and there is always a solution to not knowing a language. Whether it be Google Translate, Maps, or another student who is multi-lingual!

Anna Liljas View Full Bio

School: California Lutheran University

In each country we met with one to two businesses and had plenty of free time to explore. No other program offered this kind of itinerary.

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