How to Make the Most of your ACA Experience

Material in this section was prepared by two former ACA students.

The school year will begin with students taking a placement exam to test their knowledge of the language. From the results of the test, they will be placed in a certain level of the foreign language programs. Class choices and schedules and course selections are determined predominantly by the level in which students are placed. Students may have the opportunity to decide between one or two elective classes, but the great majority of class placements will have been established by students’ placement examination performance. Students with previous advanced courses in the language who wish to challenge a higher level language course than the one indicated by their placement test may do so for a period of one week. Their performance during that time will determine whether they may continue at the higher level or be placed in their regular courses.

Right from the very first day, all classes will be taught in the target (host country) language. Students don’t need to be scared by this because teachers realize that student’s language skills are limited at this point, and besides, everyone else is in the same boat anyway. Students may feel like it’s a “sink or swim” situation and that they’re blubbing away to the bottom, but need to “hang in”. In a matter of days or weeks, students will notice that their comprehension is growing. To get over this awkward stage quickly, students can make vocabulary lists of words they use or hear in common situations and memorize them.

Soon understanding teachers in class will be easier, and students can start attacking the really difficult listening situations like church, radio and television. After all, students listen to their teachers four or five days a week, and they can more or less depend on the subject being discussed, but the possibilities for sermons, radio, and television talks or programs or chats with their roommates are limitless. Some Americans and Canadians are intimidated by this and limit themselves to always eating with other Americans and Canadians or attempt to skip worships, Sabbath School or church services or decide to drop their civilization class because it is really too difficult after all. By so doing they are denying themselves one of the key opportunities of studying abroad, the opportunity to listen to the language.

Students’ vocabulary will be broader, they’ll speak with ease sooner, and they’ll make more friends if they put themselves in a variety of situations where they can listen to the language. That’s why singing in the choir, joining a soccer team, going to the Saturday night activities and attending worship regularly are so important. If they don’t shy away from taking electives like civilization or literature or audit a course in the secondary or theology programs, they’ll enhance their understanding of the country and people and help make the most of their travels.

Students need to know the country they are living in. Traveling is definitely one of the exciting parts of language study and the year abroad. Growing knowledge of the language will give students an insider’s view of the country and a warmer reception from the people. Exploring not just the large cities, but the out-of-the-way towns and provinces is great. Biking through a forgotten corner of Austria with friends might just be a more memorable experience than listening to the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Traveling in small towns and villages also gives students the chance to use their language in new situations away from the English-speaking shop keepers of the tourist enclaves. Trips of this type will also make travel money go farther.

ACA expects students to consider their studies as top priority. International schools are not just base camps for weekend touring. Getting involved with campus life activities is a great way to learn the language. Being at class on time and keeping a study routine also helps greatly. Beware of getting too carried away with your travels. ACA participants are students first and tourists second.

By the end of the year ACA students will be reaping the result of intensive language study applied in their everyday life and travel. Students get out of the year what they put into it, both scholastically and socially. By having been adaptable and open to new ways, they have learned a lot about the culture of their host country. Classes climax with finals. In Europe students take an exam organized by an outside institution to test their level of competence in the language. There are written and oral parts to these exams. Those who pass them have an internationally recognized diploma in hand stating the level of competence they have achieved and the knowledge that, yes, they really have learned as much or more than they thought they had!