Indiana University Overseas Study

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

Last month, I was living in like queen—traveling as forth north as the deserts and as far south as the magical, legend-filled islands. Last month, I was eating the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had and the ripest vegetables I never liked until I had them the day after they were harvested. Now the farthest traveling I do is to my local Target to indulge myself with a Lunchable (the nacho one, obviously).

It’s been weird coming back doing things like driving, grocery shopping, and eating McDonald’s—my stomach has not missed McChickens, that’s for sure. What I think has been really weird though is being able to understand everything that’s happening around me. I’m sure it will be weirder when I start Spring semester and all the material I’m learning in class I’ll be able to actually understand, but even now it’s strange. I can have a meal and participate 100% in conversation, I can go to the stores without panicking about vocab words, and when I watch the news, I know where each of the towns are. Even though this life with English is great, speaking Spanish every day is what I miss the most.

There was so much adrenaline speaking Spanish to a stranger and praying they understood what you were saying. It made me feel so smart when they’d had a response other than como? [What?]. It made me feel even smarter when they’d respond with huge vocabulary words I didn’t know the meanings of because that meant they thought my Spanish was good enough to speak to me like I wasn’t a child. Granted, they’d end up having to re-explain things to me like I was a child, but it was great!

Speaking Spanish every day there makes my life here seem way easier and more plausible. Things like figuring out lease issues or explaining what kind of headache pain I’m having is so easy. The best thing I’ve accomplished though, is being more okay with saying, “I don’t understand.” Before leaving for Chile, I was always a little embarrassed to ask someone to reword themselves, and I always thought I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand what someone was saying—despite all middle school teachers’ favorite saying, “Chances are, if you don’t understanding, neither does someone else.” Now, I have no problem asking people to go over something again. I did it so much in Spanish that it has become like second nature to ask questions.

This transition from Spanish back to English though is kind of a weird one. Even though I encountered English at some point every day when I was abroad whether it was talking to friends from home or listening to music or watching Netflix, I am still finding it a little hard to make the full switch back. For example, the names of food are the hardest. After killing myself over knowing all the vocabulary words for food we ate every day, I seem to have misplaced those English words far back in the file drawers. I can never remember the word for spaghetti or avocado because my brain still thinks I’m eating fideos and palta. It also takes me just a smidge longer to explain things and write things. Even in my blog posts, I can tell my grammar and word order has worsened, maybe not noticeable to all, but definitely noticeable to me. And even though writing is something I can fix by going through it, I can’t fix it. I can’t figure out how to move a word or come up with a different one to make it flow better. It’s very bizarre and very frustrating. But it’s also kind of awesome.

“Struggling” with English is super cool because it means the language part of my brain put aside a piece for a different language. I can promise you all that that new part of my brain is about 1/100th the size of my English part, but it’s still so cool that that can even happen in as little as five months. I mean, how cool is it that there’s a part of my brain always working in Spanish? Even right now, my mind knows I’m typing English, but I can feel it in my fingers that they want to add an accent mark somewhere. So bacán [cool]. There yah go, fingers.

So here’s to not being able to speak either language as well as I’d like to—a defeat that is welcomed with open brazos—I mean arms.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

%d bloggers like this: