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To live is to learn, to learn is to grow, and to grow is to change.
Life is comprised of change. As children we grow and change physically; add more words, both beautiful and vulgar, to our vocabularies; learn what it is to love, what it is to be hurt. We grow older and we learn what it is to care for someone else even more than we care for ourselves. In some unfortunate cases, age brings with it the learned behavior to resist change. These are processes of life and sometimes change can be a scary and overwhelming thing. Beginning a life abroad can be described almost entirely through that word ‘change’. There are big changes; stepping outside of the confines of what is familiar can lead to a whole different perspective on life. I’ve experienced a lot of big changes, but I’ve also been noticing that I’ve experienced smaller changes, as well.
During the past summer I finally had the opportunity to return to the US and visit my much-missed family for the first time in two years. It was a long over-due visit but the long length of time away gave me a unique opportunity to notice the differences with a sharper eye than I would have before. Although my observations were interesting, it was the observation of my uncle that sparked my inspiration for this post. I was a bit alarmed and definitely surprised when he almost immediately noted and informed me of the fact that I am now speaking differently than I used to. When I asked him what specifically he noticed, he wasn’t able to tell me anything in particular but just insisted again that something had changed.
Quite honestly, it’s been a worry of mine that my language and vocabulary have been deteriorating with all of the foreign words I’ve been trying to cram into my brain during the last few years. It’s no secret to me that my vocabulary and speech have changed. I notice it myself sometimes. It always shocks me when a strange word tumbles out of my mouth. For example, in the US the word ‘super’ only existed in my memories as a red-penned affirmation of an exceptional job on a spelling test or perhaps preceding the word ‘man’ on a pair of children’s pajamas. In Europe, it’s a perfectly normal exclamation and I’ve noticed it jumping off my tongue before my American brain has the chance to stop it. In addition to ‘super’, many Belgian people, while having a conversation with me in English, have asked me why I keep saying ‘ja’ instead of ‘yes’. This is a change that I’ve been completely unaware of, as I always think I’m saying the English ‘yeah’. Could it be that Belgians don’t know of the word ‘yeah’ or perhaps it’s that my pronunciation has undergone a slight transformation into the Dutch ‘ja’?
Nevertheless, I notice these small but strange things quite often. It’s a bit of an unnerving experience when I find myself doubting words I’ve known nearly my entire life, but I’ve learned to laugh at these strange occurrences, try to conceal my astonishment at myself when they happen, and to come to see them as one more bizarre quirk of living a life abroad.
Opposite Ocean is a web blog created and maintained by Leah Budke. Leah is a twenty-something American living abroad in Europe with a passion for languages, art, literature, and one special Belgian. She is a university graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish but finds that the drive to learn endures. Follow her as she cycles awkwardly through the streets of Ghent, Belgium, attempts to learn Dutch, and reveals all the quirks that make up the curious yet charming country of Belgium.
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