Waving, not Drowning

March 15 2017.

So apparently stuff has been happening back in the United States–tax returns revealed, Steve King is blathering racistly and, most importantly, Barack Obama has put out his March Madness brackets.

Here in Lund, Sweden, I have been pushed around by strong, serious winds in 45 F sunny weather as I wandered the city center. So, beautiful except for the winds. I have also walked a dog and spent an evening with a bunch of Swedes for a surprise birthday party.

As I’ve been telling people (here, there, everywhere), this is the first time in my adult* life that I’ve visited somewhere where I don’t speak or read the language, and it’s been an interesting experience. I’ve thought a lot about language learning (how do you start to pick up cues and put the pieces of language together) but also about communication in general (how can you tell what’s happening in a group of people without understanding a single word) and finally I’ve been thinking a lot about those processes as they’re changed/modified/emotionally different when you’re a tourist vs. when you’re an immigrant.

*When I was 20 I traveled with friends (who were on the same off-campus study program) to a couple of countries where the language was unfamiliar. I think being in a group shielded me from some of ways I’m thinking through my experience now.

Waving, not Drowning

I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning
in all these syllables swirling by my head.
I stare at signs for too long and rely on the color red.
I think I’m waving, not drowning
as I stare through the words at another world.
When I say, “I’m sorry,” you switch to English right away.
I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning
but it’s very true that when I met a Spaniard on the train
my Spanish tumbled out with jam on its hands and a big grin.
I’m pretty sure I’m waving, not drowning,
even as I know that I’m not drowning because I’m at the very edge
of the waters
with a safety vest made of my impermanence.

 

 

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