Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Identity Crisis

By the time I finish writing this post, this will be the most English I have "spoken" in just a little over a week. It's so crazy to read that, isn't it? Well, trust me, it's even more mind boggling to be writing that.

The past few days here have been just wonderful. Coming back to the beautiful city of Sevilla has been my dream for so long. Now that I've been here for a few days, it feels like reality and I'm glad that it's not one of the virtual kinds. On each leg of my trip I had to keep reminding myself of where I was and where I was going. It didn't fully sink in until I saw my friend waiting for me in the airport and then later in the car as we passed by the road signs with familiar names and locations on them. As I visited the sights here, both alone and with friends, I took the time to soak each moment and view in. For the most part, I have already taken tons of pictures of each of the famous sights Sevilla has to offer, so it wasn't necessary for me to take duplicate shots. I opted for taking a few pictures of new things I hadn't seen or remembered in each place and for the rest of the time I simply enjoyed the view and how I could stare at whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted. Well, within reason of course, haha.

With each passing day, I have spoken less and less English. The house I am staying in right now (with a friend and his family--mother and two sisters), there are only two proficient English speakers and only one of them is native. ;-) There were about three days in a row (Saturday-Monday) where I spoke less than 100 words of English each day. Of course, I have thought in English from time to time but not often. Over the years as I aimed to achieve fluency in Spanish, I let go of the need to translate everything all of the time and simply took the leap to think in Spanish whenever I was speaking or listening to Spanish.

I'm reminded almost each day that this trip, though it may feel like an extension of my study abroad semester here, is completely different. My two good friends who attended a program through Cedarville University are not here nor are the other American students I connected with nor my roommates in Triana. It's just me and the local people I made friends with. I do have a couple friends who would like to practice English with me if we can find the time but other than that, I have no connection to any of the Americans students studying here in Sevilla. I can't tell how weird I have felt after coming to that realization. (Side note: Yesterday I realized that I really miss Triana and all of the familiar sights I would see each day on my way to and from class and at the school I volunteered at. It's so strange to be in Sevilla but not living in Triana!!! What's even worse is that they built a super ugly "skyscraper" a few hundred feet from my beloved neighborhood too. Ugh!)

This whole readjustment period (and feeling a bit under the weather for the last 5 days) has gotten me thinking about how I express my personality in English compared to how I express myself in Spanish. I'm more animated when I speak Spanish but there have been a handful of times that I can't find the right words to describe how I'm feeling exactly. I've gotten a good handle on telling jokes and being more candid while speaking Spanish but with all of these colloquial words and phrases that only exist here in Andalucia, it can be very difficult to make yourself be understood! But little by little, I'm adding more words to my vocabulary and assimilating pretty well.

One thing that's been bothering me is that, while I'm fluent in Spanish, I'm still not bilingual. I know it takes time to achieve that level of proficiency but it's still frustrating. However, it's not frustrating in the way that you think. As I stated above, I'm not the same person personality-wise when I speak English as when I speak Spanish. I don't feel like these last few days I have acted and expressed myself as a person who's in her "early" or almost mid-twenties. I'm finding that, while I can express myself as an adult very well in English when it comes to discussing social, political and economic issues (among other topics) but in Spanish? I express my opinions in a very basic way due to the fact that I have not yet grown accustomed to the necessary vocabulary in order to have those kinds of topics. I did, however, discuss gun control in America with a native Spanish speaker in a car on the way to a small town an hour outside of Sevilla fairly well....so that's a start, right?

Regardless of the language(s) you speak, language can be the great robber of identities. It's something the vocabulary and textbooks leave out -on-purpose or not. While it's easy to achieve "head-knowledge" in a language, being able to express your personality and maturity level flawlessly is a whole different story. It can be achieved if you put your mind to it but be warned that it doesn't come easy!

It too is a journey much similar to the one I am on over here the deeper and deeper I get into my trip. Practice always makes perfect and if you have all of the necessary resources, people and motivation around you - why not jump right in? After all, we all experience an identity crisis in one way or another throughout our lives, regardless of what age are or what language we speak. That's good news because it means you're not alone! :)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I think you become fluent in the contexts where you most use the language. In Panama, I became somewhat fluent in Spanish business terms. After translating for a business-as-mission conference in Chicago, I learned even more terms (PYMEs = SMEs, estado de situación = balance sheet, etc.) Also in Panama, I spent a lot of time in Bible Study and church, and worked in a Christian bookstore. Part of my job included uploading titles to the web site, with the book description. I also memorized Scripture in Spanish. Because of all that, I learned a lot of Biblical terms and "Christianese" in Spanish.
    If you find yourself getting around well in Spain in lighthearted conversations, perhaps that's because you haven't worked there, or studied more difficult subjects in your field. If you did that, you would start to become fluent in those areas. But what you most enjoy about Spain right now is the social aspect, so you can you enter into lighthearted, happy conversations with ease. =)

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