I have to say that learning a new language is one of the strangest yet most fascinating and amazing processes I’ve ever experienced. I simply love it and am continually amazed and fascinated at how the human brain works and how languages work and how we learn them. It’s so strange…so fascinating. Those are the only two words I can think of to accurately describe it. Anyway, it’s so strange because there are changes taking place within your own head, in your own brain, which you don’t even understand or can’t even explain. It’s almost like an out of body experience, there’s really no way to explain it.
For example, I can understand Russian but I often have no idea what exactly the person has said. It’s so strange. Maybe it’s just a phase or something in the learning process but I understand them but if I had to repeat exactly what they said back in Russian I wouldn’t be able to do it. Also if I had to exactly translate what was said in English I may not necessarily be able to do that because either I don’t know all the words but I know the context and can understand or because I simply don’t know how to translate it or I don’t know the English…well, I mean, I know the English but not really. It’s hard to explain because I must know the English in order to understand it, right? Or is it possible to understand certain words in one language but not in your native language? I don’t know…
Either way, it’s the strangest, weirdest, most fascinating sensation to have that going on inside your head. And for me it’s just magical, it’s like having your brain tickled and it feels so good because you’re stretching your mind and also growing and yes, it’s slightly uncomfortable, but for the most part it’s clicking and you love it.
Then another example is that I get so used to hearing Russian that when I hear English I don’t even realize it’s English. The other day I turned on the TV and it was in English and I just sat there understanding everything and it took me a minute to realize it was in English. All the languages seem to just run together now. It’s so weird!
Those are the two strangest sensations I’ve felt and are the most noticeable and just so unexpected but so cool at the same time. I’m also noticing things about English that I guess I just never realized before or paid attention to. I guess it’s more that I always took English for granted and never thought I’d miss it and always wanted to forget English and be fluent in another language. But now I find I miss it, I need it. It’s not that I even want it, it’s an actual biological need or perhaps psychological, I don’t know, but it’s there. I also realize how I never thought outside the box of English, if that makes sense. I mean, I was surrounded by English growing up, I heard songs in English, watched movies in English, etc. It was so natural to think that everyone spoke English even though I was mentally aware that this wasn’t true. But it was the reality nonetheless. Now I look at things from a more international perspective (if that’s the right word). What I mean is that I’m seeing things through the eyes of the Russians and how Russian is so natural to them and we (we are “othered” to them) live in America and speak English and it’s like a different land, a different world entirely yet I took it to be “just the way it is” and how perspective makes all the difference.
I’m also realizing that the world is so big and varied. Being in Russia is like being in another world entirely. I mean, yes there are people and buildings and cars and buses and people think and act pretty similar and gravity still works the same and all that, it’s not totally foreign really when you think of it, but at the same time it’s like there’s all this activity and different things happening all around the world and people existing in this manner and it’s just miraculous. It’s like, “this is the way it is here” and it’s like it’s just so normal and everyday, which it is to them. But back home we’re just oblivious to this and so far removed from it so it’s really hard to fathom.
Also now that I mention it I don’t feel any culture shock really other than the language. I mean, I know there are cultural differences but to be honest I don’t think I’ve made any huge cultural blunders (at least not that I’m aware of) and I am very observant and can usually pick up on things and act accordingly or change my behavior to suit the situation. Which leads to a scary thought: what if cultural trainers really aren’t that necessary!? Well it doesn’t matter, I think they are and I think all the training and learning I’ve done before coming has really helped me. Not to mention the fact that there are also other cultures that are more shocking.
Another thing I thought of was how I wish I had taken advantage of things that I could do while at home. Perhaps I was lazy to do something simple like going to the store, running errands around town or making phone calls to solve problems. Now I really value the ability to get things done and to communicate with people and solve problems. Even if a situation is uncomfortable or awkward at least I know what to say and can take care of it. That’s something I think I’m definitely going to take advantage of when I get back and I think I’ll be so much more empowered from having been through this experience. Also knowing that I’ll be going back will be exciting but at the same time I’ll want to get as much of home and English that I can to tide me over until I come back because I won’t be able to leave for at least three months I think. So that should be interesting.
But needless to say this has just been an absolutely phenomenal experience and I’ve grown so much inside and I have so much more confidence and feel so empowered and I know inside I’ll never be the same again. The same person isn’t coming back to the US. I’m forever changed and my life will never be the same and I don’t want it to be either. I want to keep changing and evolving and growing and learning. It’s so amazing I can’t get over it. Even now if I pause for a minute and say to myself, “I’m in Russia,” I still just can’t believe it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. I probably will but it just seems so magical right now, like a dream. In my mind I can see a mental map of the world and I see the United States and I see Europe and London and Russia and I just can’t believe I’m physically there. It’s also such a strange sensation because you’re in your country and you step onto an airplane and can’t see a thing and then hours later step off in another world and it’s quite a strange physical sensation, like being transported to another world. The distance still boggles my mind.