Adriana Duarte is one of those people who has been traveling for her entire life. The child of immigrants from Mexico, she grew up in the U.S. state of West Virginia and spent two semesters and one summer of her college years studying abroad. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and German, and has a goal of learning ten languages in her lifetime (she’s currently working on learning Danish, French, Swedish, and Norwegian). She is an avid traveler with a passion for travel writing, and I have the privilege of interviewing her for today’s blog post.
You can check out Adriana’s blog at http://colormeadri.wordpress.com
Hi Adriana, and thank you for speaking with me today! Wow, ten languages! That’s quite a goal. Do you have any tips for the rest of us on the best way to become fluent in a language?
One of the best things that you can do when you’re learning a new language is to take some time to get acquainted with the sounds of letters and the alphabet. In high school I had a classical voice teacher from the Netherlands, Mariel Van Dalsum, who spoke five European languages. She introduced me to classical pieces in German, Italian, and French, taught me some characters from the IPA (international phonetic alphabet). Mariel was excellent at teaching me the correct phrasing and cadences of words and sentences. When you sing classically, you don’t necessarily always know the language you’re singing in to begin with, but that doesn’t stop a person from being able to sing in a foreign language if you can learn to effectively memorize the sounds of foreign words and make useful notations in IPA.
Mariel even tutored me later on in German outside of our weekly voice lessons because she saw how much I wanted to learn the language. When I got to college I immediately enrolled in introductory German and I haven’t stopped learning since.
So for those without a classical voice education or a university to take courses from, I recommend just finding videos, music, or anything with sound in your foreign language of choice. Play them whenever you can. It doesn’t matter whether you understand at first because I promise that after enough time, you’re brain will pick it up.
You said you studied abroad several times in college. Where did you go?
In the summer of 2014 the Rice University German department awarded ten students money to study German in Leipzig, Germany for two months with the Roy Jones Fellowship. Leipzig is a great midsize University town a couple hours south of Berlin. It was a great place to study abroad for the first time. Most people spoke English, but a decent number didn’t so it really gave me the opportunity to practice my German. When you go to visit Berlin, for instance, locals will insist on speaking English with visitors thinking that they’re making it easier for them. Leipzig is less touristy so people are more willing to let visitors stumble a bit and try their German out.
Spring of 2015 I studied abroad with IES Abroad in Freiburg, Germany, which is in the southwest of the country close to France and Switzerland. My program was instructed entirely in German and we were encouraged to speak German whenever possible. Among friends from America it didn’t always work out this way, but I had a good friend in the program that I liked to have conversations in German with whenever we were out and about in public. I interned at a Community Supported Agriculture farm in the Black Forest, and that helped improve my German a lot. I had never farmed or been involved in food production in my life, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because the people I met there were fantastic and taught me so much, both on the field and during breaks telling stories over coffee. Working there also made me more aware of my dietary choices, and inspired me to attempt to live more sustainably.
The farm in Germany
Fall of 2015 I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. I lived in a home stay in the village of Gevninge near the town of Roskilde. My commute to and from school was pretty long, about one and a half hours each way. In the beginning I was worried that I’d hate commuting. I’m not gonna lie. By the end of the semester I was pretty tired of it, mostly because the sun was setting at 4:30. I was tired of riding to and from school in the dark and waiting for the bus and train in the rain.
However, I wouldn’t have changed staying in Gevninge for living in a student dorm in the city. My host mom Kirsten was so sweet and she introduced me to her family and friends. I think in this way I got a more authentic window into the Danish culture simply by being around Danes while they were relaxing at home, which is where a lot of Danish socializing takes place, enjoying quality time in other people’s homes. They even have a word in Danish for quality time with friends and general coziness: hygge.
Her Host Mom’s House and Cat
What was it like studying abroad?
A lot of people made me feel like studying abroad would turn out to be a vacation. I found that the only way it was like a vacation was that I was doing a lot of travel. Other than that I still had to go to school. I’ve always taken studying seriously. A lot of other students weren’t taking it that seriously and would skip class to go to Vienna or drink the night away when they should be writing a paper. Everyone is different though. I didn’t mind that other people took a different approach to study abroad because that was their life. For me though, even though my grades abroad counted as pass/fail, I wanted to take away as much from my professors abroad as I did from the people I met in my programs and in the city.
I noticed on your blog you are an artist (I am, too!). What would you say is different about traveling as an artist?
As a landscape artist, my priorities for photographing my travels were a little different than my friends. Most girls were lining up to take selfies in front of landmarks. I joined in on selfies from time to time but I was mostly the weirdo that was taking way too many pictures of everything, especially of nature. One guy in my class was joking with me when our class was driving in a bus along the Moroccan coast and I was snapping photos. “How do you even keep the photos from being crooked? We’re driving on the highway!” I laughed and told him that I had no way of keeping the photos from being crooked. I don’t care if the pictures I take are perfect. I photograph to remember that specific mountain or the way the coast looked at a precise moment in time when the sun hit it just right.
Where else have you traveled to?
When I was abroad in college I traveled to the following countries: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland.
Almost every Christmas we visit extended family in Durango, Mexico. Not a lot of people know this but in Durango they filmed a lot of really popular western films. It wasn’t uncommon to see movie stars like John Wayne walking around downtown Durango in previous years. We have family a few hours away in the mountain town of El Salto. The trip there is a lot easier now because they’ve just built this new super highway from Durango to Mazatlan. It only takes 4 hours now to drive from Durango to Mazatlan, where as before it took 7 and the roads were scary. People have a tendency to see Mexico as behind on the times. I know there are still a lot of problems right now in Mexico, but I wish people could see the side of Mexico that my family sees: wonderful people, excellent food, and a thriving cultural scene. Last spring break I went to visit my mom’s side of the family in Cancun and Merida in the Yucatan peninsula. It was my first time meeting them and that was incredible.
In Canada I’ve been to Victoria Island and Vancouver but there’s so much more I’d love to see.
As far as the U.S. goes I’ve been to most of the states. I don’t know how many but it’s harder to name states I haven’t been to than states I have. My siblings played competitive tennis when they were young so we drove to a lot of tournaments all over the country. My brother lives in Seattle now, my sister in D.C., my Dad lives in South Texas, and my mom and I are currently in West Virginia.
My mom, my sister and I once drove my sister’s car from Seattle to West Virginia. It took us about five days, but the drive was so worth it. We saw Mount Rushmore for the first time and driving through Montana was beautiful. We could have just hired a service to take the car and fly back home, but that would have cost more money and wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.
Favorite country and why?
That’s a hard one, but I’d have to say Germany. I’ve spent the most time there, I’m more comfortable with the language, and there’s just such diversity in the landscape across the country. It’s also a very international country. Even in Freiburg, which is a relatively small place, you meet people from all over the world.
What do you love the most about traveling?
When I travel I can be whoever I want to be that day and no one will have anything to say about it. In a new place, people don’t know you as well and they don’t make as many assumptions about how they expect you to act.
What inspired you to start traveling?
I feel like it’s always been part of my life. My parents have been taking us to Mexico since I was a baby and now it feels almost unnatural if I stay in one place too long. Recently, I’ve been inspired by watching a Norwegian you tuber Cornelia Grimsmo. She travels a lot and is really passionate about veganism. I’m not vegan but totally admire my friends who are. I really relate with her these days because she’s longing to move back to LA where she used to work but it’s not the time at the moment. That’s how I feel about my own plans to return to Europe someday.
How do you afford to travel – are you rich?!
Thanks to Rice’s need based financial aid system, studying abroad was the same cost as staying at school. They even paid for my flight. I went to school out of state so the money I spent on trips abroad was about the money I would have spent coming home for breaks. I was fortunate to have such supportive parents who recognized my desire to see Europe and learn things I couldn’t learn at home. In the future, I plan on being careful with my money so I can set aside funds to keep traveling.
Biggest cultural shock you have experienced while traveling?
This is kind of a dumb one, but when the first time I arrived at Frankfurt airport I went to use the bathroom. I was so confused because the doors to the stalls were all full length and I didn’t understand how to know if the stall was free. It turns out when you lock the door, there’s a little square that turns red and then it turns green when you open it again. It wasn’t a huge deal but when you’re jet lagged everything feels like a huge deal.
Funniest or most embarrassing moment while traveling?
My class’s first excursion in Freiburg was snowshoeing in the Black Forest. The tour guide was explaining something to us and I was taking lots of pictures of the snow and the trees. All of a sudden I leaned back too far and I fell flat on my back in the snow. Had I not been taking so many pictures it wouldn’t have been nearly as embarrassing.
Any memorable “out of your comfort zone” moments?
One time I was hiking in Switzerland on another day trip with my program and I got to pet a cow. That was cool but then he tried to eat my pants. They must have not tasted that good though because he ran away. Then I got altitude sickness by the end of the day, but what’s a little altitude sickness when you’re hiking in the Swiss Alps!
One thing you can’t travel without?
Ear Plugs. I am the lightest sleeper.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
I really want to go to Iceland.
Any advice for those planning travel?
If you don’t have the funds to go somewhere far away, try exploring your regional options in your home country. Doing this is a lot cheaper and might inspire your future travels out of the country. Even when I studied abroad I tried to stay local once I got there and only travel to places that were a couple hours away from where I was staying.
Why should people travel?
We’re all traveling, in a sense. Even when we just walk outside, we’re traveling because we’re in motion and learning about the world. If you think about it in that way it doesn’t sound as crazy to move yourself down to the airport and board a plane to somewhere a little farther away.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to write about things I’m passionate about, perhaps go to graduate school to continue my studies. I’m looking into graduate school in Germany, but I also want to stay open to the idea that I might be better off getting job experience in America where I know more people and am more familiar with the structure of education and work. I guess you could say my future is wide open. I want travel, foreign language, and art to remain a big part of my life, but I’m just trying to figure out how to make that a reality.
More than anything I want to do work where I think I’m helping others, whether that’s in a more social outreach arena or whether I am working on projects that inspire others to live more openly and bravely.
Anything more you would like to mention?
Thank you for interviewing me. It was great to remember my time abroad and share it with other readers.
You can check out Adriana’s blog at http://colormeadri.wordpress.com