Ten, Please!

Maya Silver
October 30, 2013

Yesterday was a huge milestone for me. I’ve been working towards this moment for months, maybe even my whole life, and I just wanted to say thank you to my friends and family for supporting me. I couldn’t have done it without you…

Today, when I said “Diez, gracias,” the other person in the elevator pressed the button for the tenth floor without asking me “What?”

For some reason, I could never pronounce “diez” quite right in the elevator. On various occasions, I tried pronouncing it like dies and like diezzz. Neither worked. One day I had an epiphany – if I drop the consonant at the end and say die’ they’ll understand! Nope, I got a “huh?” in response to that one (apparently Chileans drop s’s but not z’s). I’ve tried “diez,” “diez por favor,” and “diez gracias.” I’ve pronounced it like a question and like a statement. I’ve said it loudly and softly. I even sat down with my host sister and begged her to teach me to say it exactly like she did. Our conversation went something like this:







Maybe it was something about being in a metal cage, the Faraday shielding efect, interference with the electrical signals of my neurons…But no, I think what happened yesterday was I gave up trying to say it right and just said it.

My Spanish is not all that bad, at least outside of the elevator. I’ve conversed with a woman with a neurodegenerative disease and missing teeth, I’ve understood the presidential debates on television, and I’ve talked with friends and family for hours about life and politics everything I would talk to friends and family about in the US. Once while I was reading an article, my friend asked which language it was in, and I had to actually look back at the page to see. I wasn’t consciously reading in Spanish or reading in English; I was just reading. And once, I dreamt in Spanish.

My Spanish hasn’t interfered with my English much, except that I tend to spell “-tion” words with a “-cion,” and certain words jump to my mind in Spanish before they do in my mother tongue (aprovechar – to take advantage of, faltar – to lack, palta – avocado). My Spanish has, however, interfered with my Hebrew something awful. It isn’t so much a cognitive or intellectual confusion, so much as an almost-physical phenomena. It’s like a sledding slope, where you just keep going down the same path again and again. I intend to say something in Hebrew to my mother and it literally just comes out in Spanish.

I can no longer imagine studying abroad in an English-speaking country, nor can I imagine studying abroad in a place where I hardly speak the language at all. This isn’t to say those experiences aren’t worthwhile, but I’m so glad I’m here.

Marveling at salt and rocks in the Atacama desert, in the north of Chile Whoever said you can't find delicious fruit in the dessert is mistaken (equivocado, as we say here) Faces lit up by the setting sun in Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead) Going for a short walk in the desert Those plants look fuzzy, but they're spiky (I speak from experience unfortunately). The salt flats, home to a surprising number of birds (including flamingos!) The geysers just before sunrise (altitude 4200 m)

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Maya Silver

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Maya is a senior majoring in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to classes and laboratory research, she enjoys running, martial arts, and improvisational baking (with variable results). Having achieved comprehension of the Baltimore accent, she hopes to master Spanish as well, and is looking forward to many adventures in Chile!</span></p>

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