What Does it Mean to Group Intercambio?

Dear Steve,

I think intercambios, or language exchanges, are a great way to get out there and meet new people! I have participated in two types of intercambios since living abroad here in Spain. For right now, though, let's focus on group intercambios.

With Facebook groups and Couchsurfing (read about Couchsurfing here and here) it is now easier than ever to find a group intercambio, or a group meeting where a bunch of people who want to exchange (intercambiar) languages can meet up and talk. These are a great way to meet other people in the city, including Spanish people (which is honestly not as easy as it sounds).

 
A group of people meeting, drinking, and laughing
 

The type of people that frequent intercambios can vary from travelers who are just passing through the city and want to meet up for a drink, to locals who are looking to improve their language skills, to foreign residents in the city who want to improve their Spanish. Depending on the type of exchange that you attend, you'll find different types of people that go. I have been to intercambios that are mostly foreign people, but I have also been to some that are mostly Spanish people. The nice thing about intercambios is that people are there to share with you, which means that whoever is attending is looking to talk and learn.

Another really great thing about group intercambios is that they are really informal* which means you can go with the intention only to meet people independently of the languages they speak, or you can go ready to practice. (However, if you are looking for a really intense language exchange, maybe a one-on-one intercambio is better for you.) Also, these group meetings are about having fun. That means that people don’t go with their textbooks, but instead talk about things they like to do, eat, etc.

Personally, I have had phases where I go to one or two intercambios a week, and phases where I hardly go at all. The most common languages that you find at intercambios in Granada are Spanish and English,  but depending on the people in attendance, others are prevalent. I like to practice Spanish and Portuguese, but I know people who have practiced all sorts of languages from French to Russian or Chinese.

And it may seem silly, but I have met people at intercambios with whom I really connect and we have become friends. Sometimes these people are just passing through, so it doesn’t amount to much, but sometimes you get lucky and you meet someone to hang-out with long term. One of my oldest friends in Granada is a guy I met through my first Couchsurfing intercambio, and I cannot imagine my time here without him (and I can almost imagine he feels the same way, but he has a sense of humor that sometimes has me questioning if we are even friends ;) ).

On that note, I think it is really important to say that I am...not the most socially outgoing person ever (although Dani, who I also met through an intercambio, probably wouldn’t agree). My first time going to a meeting, I went alone because I didn’t really know anyone else, and let me tell you, it was really hard for me just to find the nerve to go. But I was pleasantly surprised and people were really friendly. In fact, I might even recommend going alone because it forces you to talk to other people and to leave ‘your bubble’**.

Sincerely,
Spain
 

*In my experience, intercambios tend to be casual meet-ups. However, it is also possible to find very organized ones where they will ask you to "sign up" with the languages you speak and then sit you at tables accordingly or where the event is run in a speed-dating style so you have a limited time to speak with each person. If you're turned-off by your experience at an intercambio of one style, give it another chance and seek out one that is more or less organized.

**I say that I live in a bubble because there is so much that I still don’t know about the world and 'my bubble' is what I know, my experiences, and how I find happiness (without worrying about knowing everything, all the time). At the same time, I am happy that way, although I am willing to hear about other people’s experiences and adventures too.