Now that I was feeling more confident about my listening skills, I continued to push myself, looking for ways to be involved with the language and the people who spoke it in my area. Over the next few years, I met a handful of international students at my school and some who were studying at the university in town which had a good sized foreign student population. Even in casual conversations I could notice how they carried their culture with them and picked up on their attitudes towards many things and got a sense of how they viewed their home country and mine. These encounters weren't everyday but each one was another layer of experience in listening or speaking. Then I started upper division classes. During those last two years of university I also had a couple of serious boyfriends from Latin American who were here as students. English was the default language but we would switch back and forth between both and I learned so much language and culture from them directly and indirectly. One thing that I noticed that served as an indicator of what level I was at was that whenever we would talk about something that I thought was important, I prefered English because I wanted to be sure I understood everything. For casual conversation I felt comfortable using Spanish. That was the relatively easy part to develop because that type of language is common and I sought it out. This skill was solidified by the time I started the advanced classes in university. I got to practice, for real purposes, a variety of language tasks with the people I knew or met. Quite often they were situations I had never encountered but perhaps because I was motivated, and had developed skill in circumlocution (using language you know to compensate for what you don't know how to say), I was able to deal with them. For example, I was once invited to someone's apartment and that person gave me detailed directions in Spanish over the phone. These kind of experiences gave me a sturdy foundation as I began the more challenging classes in college.
Now, I was listening to lectures about Spanish history and literature. It was relatively easy but was more input of a different kind. So were the Spanish language news reports I 'd listen to on the radio from the city nearby and the salsa and merengue the station played. Any new song was like a lesson. After hearing it a couple of times, I learned it the way I would a song in English. However, this was only if I recognized the words. There were some I didn't know. I was also lucky to be taught famous songs and the difficult words in them by my friends. In this way, I continued to increase my vocabulary through aural input, something I got used to since I originally started in Miami. So far I was pretty satisfied with what I had learned and thrilled to be advancing in the language through a college major but soon I began to realize that this new stage wasn't quite what I expected.