Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a few thoughts on the hard parts

We've already been here for over three weeks, and a few people have asked what's been the hardest part about coming here.

It initally sounds super exotic and exciting...a summer in Italy! But there are lot of things that have been a little uncomfortable. Not having TV (or DVDs, or access to Netflix!), sleeping on a fold-out couch, being couped up just the two of us all day long in a place less than half the size of our [very small] house in CA.

But those have all been secondary compared to what the language barrier has been like. Our first two weeks here we excitedly dove into learning the language through a Pimsleur learning course, but we felt like we'd barely learned anything. We could introduce ourselves, ask the time, order food, but conversationally we are so stuck.

There are about 7 people in the church who speak English fluently enough to have a normal conversation with (and 4 of those people are in the pastor's family). With everyone else we can smile, say hello, ask how they're doing -- and then, that's it. Everyone converses on as normal and we're left feeling like a third wheel.

This was driven home for me when we stopped by the pastor's elderly mother's house today just to say hi. She is the sweetest lady, and we had so much to share with each other. We attempted at communicating a few words, but ultimately, sat in smiling frustrated silence until we left.

Even when people do try to include us, by translating a few thoughts here and there in a conversation, it's tedious and inconvenient, and we're still unable to fully participate. For E, it's been tough not getting the jokes. Even if we catch a word here and there, we don't understand the intricacies of the language enough to get the jokes and teasing that goes on between the people here. [Which happens a lot!]

There have been a few moments of so much frustration I wanted to scream. It's so isolating to be in the midst of people happily conversing, and not be able to participate.

Have you guys ever experienced the frustration of inability to communicate? We'd love some encouragement!


Anni said...

This is something that I can't fully imagine, since I've only been the the US and Canada. I really admire you for immersing yourselves in an entirely different culture and language, I think that takes a lot of character! I think I told you that we'd love to move to Paris for a year sometime, but I'm definitely taking a year plus of French first. Even then, I'm sure they'll still be a huge language barrier that will be surprising and difficult, no matter how much I tell myself to expect it.

Amanda said...

I've never been in a country where I didn't speak the language, but I can only imagine how frustrating it would be - especially being there for as long as you guys are!

Anonymous said...

I've been to Haiti a few times but we were in a group of about 7 people who spoke English so we always had someone to pass the time with. My advice is to play with kids. They are forgiving and enjoy playing the "what's that?" game. And can teach you games that don't require much language skills!

Are there any ex-pat groups nearby you?

Anonymous said...

My husband and I just returned to California from 2 years serving in the Peace Corps in Mongolia; talk about culture shock!! Well, at least going to Mongolia. Coming home was easy for us; America stayed the same, but we changed a bit :)

As for actually living abroad, we also lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year during college (study abroad) and I assume Italy is somewhere between these?! Anyways, I feel like I can offer you empathy more than tips, ha. One little tidbit: don't let a lack of language hold you back from ANYTHING!! Do whatever you want and keep an open-mind and use that infamous Italian sign-language :)

Shoot me an email if you need a sympathetic ear! thedailybefuddled [at] gmail [dot] com

Jessica Lynn said...

Have you found yourself learning more by being immersed? I know you said you did study the language a little, so I'm wondering if it's helping you more than you realize.

I seriously need to bump up my time with Rosetta Stone.

steph c said...

I felt this way a bit when we went to Mexico - while we were in a pretty touristy area and most local people did speak English, they definitely preferred to speak in Spanish. My friend that I went with is fluent in Spanish, so she would just carry on in these conversations with everyone and anyone, and I was just standing there smiling and nodding or looking off into the distance. She would sort of half tell me what they were talking about later.. but it does get frustrating. I did find, however, that the more I listened in and was around it, I started to pick up more and more words and phrases. Granted I was only there for a week and I really didn't learn much, I 'd say keep at it. I hope it gets a bit easier for you guys <3

melinda said...

Even when I studied abroad in England, I found myself missing out on the lingo, inside jokes, etc. It certainly can be lonely! When we were in Italy for our honeymoon, a lovely elderly couple tried engaging us in conversation and we would have just loved to hear their stories, but we did the same as you, smile and nod. It'll get better though, you'll hit a breakthrough soon!

Loribeth said...

I'm sure it must be very hard. I have a dear friend in Italy. He only speaks Italian and I only speak English. He tries to help me, but it is very difficult, so I kind of understand...

Still what an amazing experience. Like someone else said, you'll soon have a breakthrough and you'll suddenly realize that you understand what's being said.

Still soooooo jealous!! haha!

beka said...

I know exactly how you feel. I studied abroad in Spain and the language barrier was the hardest thing EVER. So frustrating and I was so impatient to be able to communicate and understand what was being said around me.
And then one day, I realized that my brain had made the switch. I was no longer thinking in English - and once you stop thinking in English, you can speak the native language and follow along with what's being said around you. It'll come for you.

But I know it's hard in the mean time.

Katie said...

Oh, my dear, I know how frustrating that can be! When we traveled to Italy with my dad (he had business there), we were staying in a villa around Perugia for a few weeks. Although we had a translator with us...they weren't around 100% of the time. So, we still had to venture out and attempt to communicate without their help at times. I remember one instance when I stopped the innkeeper lady (her name is Brunella...haha) because I heard that the kitchen there was gorgeous. I remember saying "cucina" and pointing...hoping she'd understand. Instead, she led me into the doorway of the kitchen, opened up the fridge, and handed me a bottle of ketchup. Um...ok.

Also, I found it hard sometimes during the multiple course meals we were being served. For the first week, I always politely turned down the meat courses, not really thinking anything of it (I was completely vegetarian at the time). Then one night our translators dined with us. When I turned down the meat course, Brunella apparently began cursing me out under her breath in Italian, as she probably had each night. The translators asked me about the meat, and as soon as I said that I was vegetarian, their eyes got wide. They pulled Brunella aside and told her, I guess, and ohhh my gosh did she feel horrible. She went into the kitchen and literally made a HUGE tray of roasted vegetables and potatoes and then kept piling them onto my plate, rubbing my back and encouraging me to eat eat eat. Darn you, language barrier! I felt embarrassed that she had thought I was being rude and didn't like her cooking, when it was just that I was a vegetarian. Sigh.

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