I’m a language person. The power and precision of words moves me. I love to read and write. I value thoughtful speech and tend to use my words carefully.
So what does it mean to live somewhere I can’t understand language in a complex way or express myself thoughtfully?
It’s a struggle when I can’t remember how to conjugate a polite request; when I can’t express my opinions on film or art or humanity; when I don’t know how to compliment someone; when I don’t understand something funny. The list could go on.
I’ve always been curious about the way this would feel. Obviously it’s hard, obviously it’s challenging. It’s a reason I chose to study abroad. I wanted to know what being an outsider was like. What it was like to be at a store and need something but have no idea what it’s called or where to find it. What it’s like to talk with your hands too much because no one understands you. What it’s like to be unable to connect with people because you don’t have the words.
It’s a challenge. It’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated. But it’s also rewarding. I never want to forget the unusual kindness that’s confronted my expectations. People have laughed at my jokes despite grammatical errors; listened through my halting stories; and cheered on my progress. The kindness and patience of the people I’ve met here has brought me fresh surprise and joy every time I encounter it.
The more time I spend here the easier it’s gotten. My original fear and discomfort have abated. I still need a dictionary, and I can’t quite appreciate the subtleties of marvelous Spanish literature, but I’ve learned so much. Making mistakes in a foreign language isn’t stupidity; it’s growing. I think studying abroad is such an important experience for this reason. It’s not easy to land gracefully in a foreign country. But the things you learn on the way are worthwhile. You learn to be flexible, patient, and forgiving. Also, it’s the best possible way to learn a new language. In three months I feel like I’ve learned double what I did in six years of studying in the United States (although over the ears I had some spectacular professors whose humor and teaching I am so grateful for).
To end on a cheerful and cheesy note, here’s a reminder to grow your roots deep and keep looking up; featuring a big old beautiful tree in the heart of this big beautiful city, Valencia.