Reaching a New Understanding through Language Barriers

Nicole Von Wilczur
October 26, 2016

This post is dedicated to my parents, migrants everywhere, and to anyone else living in another country and speaking a language everyday that is not their own.

Today is Tuesday October 25th. It’s been almost two months now since I first arrived in Spain. I remember my first day here, walking into the hotel and meeting the IES Abroad faculty and orientation leaders. Tired from the long flight over, I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by the fact that everyone was already speaking to me in rapid fire spanish that I couldn’t completely understand. I remember the fear I felt that entire first month anytime I personally had to speak in Spanish (whether it be to my host mom, to a waiter, or to anyone really). I remember the anxiety I faced before the start of my first day of school, not knowing if I would be able comprehend anything that my professors were going to be saying. I remember worrying if I was going to fail here completely because I wouldn’t be able to make friends or study for my classes or function in everyday life.

As I think of where I’m at now, I guess I’m proud of the progress I’ve made with my speaking skills during the last two months. I'm able to sit through fifteen hours of Spanish classes a week, order food and drinks with confidence, ask for help when I’m lost on the street, and hold some sort of a conversation with my host mom and other spaniards for upwards of a couple of hours. Despite this, I do still find myself facing moments where I struggle to find the right words to say in a situation.

One of the most frustrating sensations I have felt since coming here has been in class or in everyday life when someone brings up a topic that excites me, and I want to talk more about it, but I don’t have the vocabulary or the courage to do so. The sensation of feeling completely dumb when trying to explain a complicated concept is also hard to deal with and has led to moments where I choose to remain silent during a conversation because sometimes it's easier than trying to speak.

These struggles make me think a lot of the similar situations my parents must have faced when they came to the US a little less than 30 and 25 years ago respectfully. My dad immigrated from Poland, not knowing any English when he came, and my mom from the Philippines, with only a few English words and phrases under her belt. Neither of them ever took formal English classes but still managed to learn the language enough to live, work, and teach their children English.

Growing up I knew it was difficult for them to communicate sometimes. I remember many times where I’d have to act as the translator between them and the outside world, or have to write their emails, fill out formal paperwork, or check their documents for grammar and spelling.

I truly admired my parents for the courage they showed when they left their country and started over in a new place. However, it was only when I came to this country that I realized how truly incredible their feat was. How difficult it must have been to not be able to understand everything they heard, to sound a little weird when they spoke, or to hold their thoughts in because they didn’t know how to express them.

I think about how sometimes in the US we chastise people for speaking with heavy accents or when we can't understand what they're trying to say. We unconsciously think of them as less intelligent without realizing the bravery and everyday confidence it takes just to function in a language that is not their own.

I’d like to carry just an ounce of that confidence and courage that my parents and other migrants show everyday around with me during my remaining stay here in Spain.

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Nicole Von Wilczur

My name is Nicole von Wilczur, from Phoenix, Arizona. I'm a rising college junior attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. When I'm not studying, I enjoy fighting for social justice, being outdoors, photography, and learning to recite the lyrics to 90's and early 2000's rap songs. I've never traveled outside of the US, so I am very excited for the opportunity to be studying abroad in Granada, Spain, and sharing my experiences with you!

2016 Fall
Home University:
Bowdoin College
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