By Autumn Palen
Last spring, towards the end of April, I boarded an overnight bus at 11pm — just me and the backpack my mom had loaned me for the semester. One uncomfortably upright night of sleep later, I found myself in a country where nobody knew me, and I didn’t know their language.
And I spent one week there.
This is how that went.
The country in question was The Netherlands, and, although I arrived at Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station, just outside the capital itself, I stayed with a family in Heemstede, south of the markedly smaller city of Haarlem.
Getting from Amsterdam to Heemstede on my own, at dawn, turned out to be a bit trickier than expected. Even in English, the ticketing machine was exceptionally confusing, and the validation system was something my Morning Brain was not ready to absorb. Once I boarded the train, anxiety hummed within me as the Fare Enforcement Officer made his way up the aisle, for fear of not having done it correctly. Thankfully, the officer didn’t bat an eye, nor did I have to open my mouth and make Dutch come out.
I wasn’t in the clear, though. There was still the matter of getting off the train.
Continue reading How (Not) To Be the Only Person You Know in an Entire Country
By Jessleen Dhaliwal
My mother and I speak two different languages; she speaks Punjabi and I speak English. We choose to speak different tongues. My mother asks a question in Punjabi, and I answer in English. Even though we communicate, the truth in our words is lost.
I never understood how our words lost meaning until I read Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Tan describes language as a key factor in the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American daughters. In each story, there were misunderstandings because neither the mother nor the daughter understood one another. After reading The Joy Luck Club, I wanted to understand why my mother and I spoke different languages. Was it my limited knowledge of Indian culture? Or was it my mother’s fractured English? How could we speak, yet not understand each other?
When I finally asked my mother, she replied with a simple answer. In Punjabi, my mother said, “That is the way it has always been.”
Continue reading Communicating in Two Languages
By Jacob Birsen
I spent the majority of my senior year in high school saving up money to go spend a portion of my summer with my best friend in Spain. For two years, I had been dreaming of visiting her and taking in another country’s culture. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school and I was finally ready to try out my Spanish in a real world environment.
However, on my first day in Barcelona, I realized that Catalan, not Spanish, was the primary language spoken. The ones who spoke Spanish primarily spoke it at a pace that was too fast for me to understand, so I wasn’t as vocal with the locals as I could have been. Towards the middle of my trip we were scheduled to go visit my friend’s extended family who lived about an hour outside of Barcelona. My lack of Catalan took me from very exciting to this portion of the trip to very nervous. Many of her older family members only spoke Catalan, and the few that did speak Spanish were always speaking in Catalan so it didn’t make a difference. When we arrived at the house of my friend’s grandparents, I was lost. I sat myself down on the couch and was basically waiting for it all to be over. I stayed this way for at least half an hour, completely intimidated by locals speaking a language I couldn’t understand. Some of the adults tried to speak to me, and although I responded in Spanish, they grew bored of my limited vocabulary and went back to speaking with the main group once again.
Continue reading Speaking Spanish in Spain