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The Value of Greek

I am such a linguaphile, I can’t even help it.  Too young to attend school under the French Immersion program like my older brother, I made up my own language to compensate.  Obviously, I refused to ever let my brother in on its secrets, which annoyed him to no end.  In seventh grade, I attacked French with gusto.  In ninth grade, I traded all my high school electives and part of my summer for the chance to take Spanish.  In college, instead of just testing out of both languages, I let my scores stagnate and struggled through Arabic.  And oh, have I struggled. So when I found out I was going to Greece, learning the language seemed like a no-brainer.  I got a phrasebook, I signed up for language-learning software via Odysseus, and I started trying to re-learn the Greek alphabet (with correct pronunciation, no thanks to the Greek system of American Universities.) I know from my experience with Arabic that truly knowing the alphabet through and through makes a huge difference, and I intend to have it fully mastered, along with basic phrases, before I leave in September.  When I’m in Greece, I fully plan on auditing one of the Greek 101 classes that my students take. Since then, however, conversations with several people have caused me to question my resolve.  How realistic is it for me to become conversational between now and December, when I return?  How often will I used Greek after this trip? I suppose this really gets at the question of why do I study languages?  When people ask why Arabic (no one ever...

Field Work

Put on: sneakers: anything flip-floppy will get muddy or you’ll feel the rocks through them as you scramble up hills shorts or a skirt that come to the knee, so you attract as little attention as possible.  Even though the people you interview will be wearing less.  and even though covering up more DOES NOT correlate to less attention.  more on that later. deodorant.  so much deodorant. Leave at home: any flashy jewelry, sine you’re already a big enough target (for…?) revealing clothing, since we’re in a Christian country with a Christian organization and a bus full of gringos is weird enough as it is Get in a van with 14-16 other people, even if it’s only meant for 10-12.  Hope there’s air conditioning as you turn on your ipod and look out the window.  Try not to get sick from the stop and go city traffic, the lack of lanes and the pock-marked country “roads.”  When you get to a batey: Leave your camera and your water bottle.  Children will want them and you probably don’t have enough to share. Bring notebook, pen, and a translator if you can’t do the job for yourself.  Be prepared for conversations across 3-4 languages. Days are long, people are unhappy, and the questions get as tired as you will be by the end of the day. You get covered in dirt and sweat and clothes stick to skin as skin sticks to vinyl and we all stick to each other as we bump along the dirt roads.  This particular survey is hard because most of the people interviewed are no longer...

But I’m Dominican

After a brief chat with our bus driver about logistics with Esther, I asked his name: Aristidos. Ah! Como el presidente de Ayiti, Aristide … Si, pero (shakes head vigorously) nooooo.  Soy dominicano! It seems no one here wants to be Haitian or even vaguely associated with that 1/3 of the island.  When I was in Mata los Indios in March, kreyol-speaking Haitian-born people were insistent that they were Dominican. Even though we knew they were a majority Haitian community, so few would own up to their native tongue, instead nodding along to Spanish questions they couldn’t understand. I really can’t blame them.  Haitians can’t get papers (or cédulas, the state-issued id cards) which means they cannot get diplomas, they cannot vote, and their children cannot go to school.  And it doesn’t really matter whether they were born here, or their parents were born here.  To be Haitian is to be persona non grata. Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Like this:Like...

10 Things People Say About My Travels

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love? Good lord, no!  But might I interest you in some Ayn Rand, Ayun Halliday or Malcolm Gladwell? Have you been to___________? Probably not.  I’ve only been to a few places.  They just all happen to be a little scary to the average bear, and one trip right after another. Why don’t you just go where they speak English? I speak other languages and I want to learn more.  Also, my travel is an integral part of my education.  It is not based on areas of high booze, sex or beaches, but rather areas I want to study.  England and Australia appeal to me as a traveler, but not as a student.  It would be counter-productive and perhaps a bit unethical for me to take money from NU, the government, and my parents to go abroad for non-educational purposes. Wasn’t it scary?  And don’t they just treat women like crap? And aren’t they awful?  (you get the picture…) No!  I promise!  I really have enjoyed everywhere I have gone, and I have never felt truly unsafe.  I research where I go pretty heavily, and I have turned down opportunities because I deemed them unsafe.  And if you come away from reading this blog thinking the people were awful and mistreated women everywhere I went, then I’ve failed.  I tell it like it is, and that means mentioning the harassment.  But I also get an alarming number of doors opened for me, and strangers who make sure I’m not lost, and people giving me presents at random.  It’s a mixed bag, like anywhere else. I...

Learning the Language Matters

I’m sick of reading posts by bloggers who assure you it’s okay, they had a magical and revelatory experience in a foreign country wherein they knew basically none of the language.  Good for you.  Do you know how we treat people in America who don’t learn the language?  Like dirt.  Even if someone knows the language but has a little trouble, or a bit of an accent, we give them a hard time.  We insinuate that they’re clueless or stupid, and make jokes about their lack of credentials.  We say, “It’s AMERICA, learn ENGLISH!” Do people even understand the phrase doesn’t work that way? At least, “We’re in England, learn English,” works rhetorically, but the America one just makes you sound ignorant.    Every time someone goes abroad and doesn’t even have to try the language, they’re demonstrating a tiny bit of why people hate America.  We get whatever we want, and no, we’re not working hard for it.  We just collectively have so much money and pull, and other countries have so little, that they have to accept our 2.5 gpa English-only students.  Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting by with gestures.  Try moving away from the backpacker code or the study abroad rut and learn something real about the place you’re going to.  Something that doesn’t involve alcohol, hooking up or a beach.  Maybe it will involve a local meal for more than just the one token time, which inevitably will become a blog post or oft-repeated story.  Or try spending time with people who are not also fellow travelers, people who are not expats...

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