sometimes i feel content to live in my own little american paradise in my flat with peanut butter, popcorn, nintendo games, and banter about the latest john oliver video segment. there are some days when leaving the house and realizing that you are in a foreign country isn’t the first thing you feel like experiencing. although these are the same streets i’ve walked for over a year and a half, sometimes everything just feels too foreign for my mood that day.
but then, when i find myself in a motivated and ambitious sort of mood, there are times where i think i should be adjusting better especially since i chose to live here. “i have no real czech connections”, as i told a new colleague today. “i just wanted to live in a different country… to experience life in a different way”.
sometimes, i sit quietly in the teacher’s work area at my language school while all the other czech teachers speak to each other. i can generally understand the gist of what’s being discussed and usually, what tone, but typically i just say nothing and smile. which can be aggravating, because in these situations, i typically like to be friendly or have something to say. my being a non-czech speaker, i feel as if i’m unfriendly by default. dobry den only gets you so far.
then there are certain feelings that come: the feeling when you pass a colleague you just barely know and they say something to you that you can’t understand. the feeling when a couple of native speakers are sitting around and say a couple things in czech to someone else. sure, they’ve been living here for years upon years, but it doesn’t make me feel any less useless.
as a white, middle-class american, we never feel uncomfortable or out of our element. everyone speaks english, very few people speak a second language, and we always know what’s going on. even around the world visiting big cities, we always know that english is an option. to be experiencing this for the first time comes as a bit of a shock, to say the least. i will admit that i currently feel uncomfortable speaking czech to a czech person that i know speaks decent english. i mean, why bother at something that is clearly going to be painful for both of us? czechs are quite used to switching between languages and encountering tourists from many different backgrounds. they have long since gotten over that awkward translation issue or switching from one language to another to accommodate someone else. lots of the time, i giggle after trying something in czech because i feel like i sound foolish and i haven’t gotten over this self-conscious feeling like most europeans have had to do.
language is the main area where i feel i still could use an adjustment. i love czech literature, try to see czech films whenever possible, and have seen many local art exhibitions. trying the food, going to local shows, experiencing and embracing the celebrations and traditions– all of this came so easily. but as an acquaintance i met while in berlin a couple of months ago told me: “once you learn the language, i think everything is going to click for you.” i couldn’t agree more that this is one of the missing puzzle pieces in most experiences living abroad. it’s the primary reminder that i don’t belong here, and one of these days, i’ll make an executive decision about what exactly to do about that.
if you live abroad, are there any areas where you feel you could use some help adjusting?