If Only I Had Taken Spanish In High School

By Eliza Upton

It has been five days since we first got to Costa Rica, and for the last five days I have been trying to make sense of the language formally known as Espanol. Other than learning to sing the alphabet in sixth grade and counting to ten during those elementary school soccer pre-game stretch circles, my Spanish education has been non-existent. But here we are on day five, the day before my first Spanish class, and I’ve become a master at saying si (yes) and gracias (thank you) to everything. Because in my opinion you can never go wrong with saying yes or thank you to something you don’t understand. Even if you say gracias in response to someone saying gracias to you, because here in Costa Rica they’ll give you a little chuckle and understand that you’re that American who doesn’t quite get it. However, in all seriousness I’ve found my little language barrier to be a challenge, one that I was expecting and ready to take on, but a challenge nonetheless.

For the first time in my life I have felt restrictions in being able to express myself. Even with a host mother who speaks a little English, I’ve had to put extra energy into each conversation I have as I try to pronounce Spanish words and phrases correctly and make sure my English is simple and understandable. But even sometimes that extra energy is not enough and I’m still left confused and frustrated by my lack of bi-lingual abilities. I often even feel silenced by my own laziness at trying to explain the extent of my thoughts. Time at home now feels like I’m watching a Costa Rican movie with English subtitles that appear sporadically. My American banter has been left in the States along with my comfort zone.

However uncomfortable this new situation may be, it has ultimately given me a fresh perspective and appreciation for communication. Not only has my patience strengthened, but I am learning how to listen in a more meaningful way. The importance of body language and facial expressions have become much more apparent, and I am finding myself to be more vivid with my own actions. My voice is no longer the only tool I readily access when trying to communicate. And when I do have a successful conversation with my host family, it fuels a stronger connection. Each day it is the little wins that bring me the most reassurance in my biggest adventure yet, even when it is just saying gracias at the proper time.

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