When I was studying abroad in Italy, I was primarily studying art history. I went so that I could see the art that I had been enamored with and inspired by in person. I had no experience speaking Italian, though. Part of my requirement was to take Italian. No biggie, right? I figured I'd learn the basics and enjoy my semester going to to museums. And, everyone told me that a lot of English would be spoken. WRONG!
I ended up in an intensive, rigorous Italian class in a city where almost no one spoke English- imagine 5 years of high school language classes crammed into 3 months. The only way I survived was to actually go outside, and practice speaking the things I was learning in class. By the end of the semester I was partially fluent, writing 5-page essays and speaking with the locals at the market I shopped at weekly. On the last day I was there, an Italian tourist approached me and asked me directions to a city landmark. Without thinking, I answered in Italian, and she understood me! It was one of the most accomplished feelings I've ever had! Che bello!