Traveling in another language

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

Mr. Bryson could not have been more correct in his assessment of traveling in another language.  Being ignorant of your surroundings and what is going on in the day-to-day activities of life brings one back to a time that can be unfamiliar: childhood.

Spanish has always been a major interest of mine.  Because of my Latino heritage and my understanding of how important being able to speak Spanish is, I have always wanted to become fluent in the language.  So, naturally, I started taking classes in high school and ended up graduating high school with 4 years of Spanish experience.  Going into college I was still interested in the language.  When it was all said and done I ended up with 6 1/2 years of taking Spanish in the United States and was feeling pretty confident in my ability to speak the language.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I never once actually expected to be able to understand everything that was being said when I was going abroad to Argentina.  However, I did not expect to be as lost and confused as I was upon my arrival in Córdoba.  After the 15 hour travel and getting all my things settled in it was time to go to my school to get acquainted with my professors and to get an idea of how things would work.  I was hungry and thirsty so, of course, I figured I would stop and get something on my way to class.  As I went to pay the clerk at the kiosco (convenience store), it hit me that I was not nearly as capable of speaking Spanish fluently to another person.  I could not even order a coke and a candy bar.  After I finally got my damn coke and something to snack on I was headed towards my school.

Even walking  down the street made me feel like I was out of my element.  I tried listening to other people and what they were saying but nothing could be understood.  So, needless to say, I was happy when I arrived at school. Having a native speaker who speaks the language every single day was just an amazing experience to further my Spanish.  The first week was a little rough because I was still trying to adjust to the speed and accent of the language in Argentina (which is much different than the Spanish taught in high school and college).  But I will say that after about 2 1/2 weeks I felt pretty comfortable with speaking the language.  I had managed to change my accent and also speak in a well-paced and fluid way.

argentina

Myles in Argentina

Traveling in another language can be a humbling and terrifying experience.  I am a very outgoing person and I have never had a problem making conversation with strangers and being in a public situation.  However, being in a foreign setting definitely changed that.  I found myself not making as much conversation as I normally would and almost felt embarrassed trying to even speak the language.  But, it was this uneasiness and discomfort that made the trip all the better.  It was a very different feeling for me to be uncomfortable in my environment.  I mean, I feel uncomfortable and a little lost when I go to a different city in the States, let alone a foreign city in a foreign country.  It is just a natural feeling.

I will admit that I am very proud of myself for how well I improved upon my Spanish speaking.  It is definitely no where close to being perfect and I understand that.  But, I have really improved and I can carry on a conversation with anyone who speaks Spanish now.  The pinnacle of my trip and when I realized how much my language had developed was a situation similar to my very first day in the country.  I found myself in a kiosco with some friends from Argentina.  We were all talking about the day and what we were going to do.  The clerk chimed in and was talking to us.  The conversation was not very complex and was probably somewhat basic, but I was still amazed when I walked out of the kiosco.  I almost had to sit back and re-think about what just happened.  I felt like I did not have to be embarrassed anymore.  I did not have to be so nervous anymore.  I felt like I belonged.

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