Life as an immigrant can be exciting, beautiful and also – challenging. The US has a large immigrant population and they are repeatedly the subjects of heated political conversations all around. Living in the US, it’s not at all uncommon to hear someone say, “if you can’t speak English then you shouldn’t live here”. Those words have likely even come out of my mouth. Shame on me.
I’m on the other end of it. Living in another country that speaks a language I don’t know. I’m the immigrant that you could say the same thing to. And how humbling or even hurtful those words can be. When I moved here I couldn’t even order a coffee in a cafe in a proper sentence! Did I feel embarrassed about it? Yes. Did that embarrassment magically transform me into a German speaker? No.
I’m not saying that immigrants shouldn’t bother trying. We should always work at learning the language of the place we have chosen to live. What I am saying is that these things take time, work, and lots of effort. In 7 months I believe my language proficiency has come a long way, but 7 months is still a long time, I’ve got a LONG way left to go, and importantly my situation is privileged. Yep, privileged. My job, 20+ hours a week, is only to learn German. I can assure you, the situation for most immigrants is not so comfortable as my own. I do not have to go to work every day: I don’t have children to feed, or keep a roof over their heads.
Think of all the times that you tried to learn anything. Did you learn it right away? Did you learn it without making any mistakes? Were your instructors/peers patient with you or did they get irritated and make you feel worse about your mistakes?
Remember this the next time you’re in a store, or restaurant or even school and you hear someone struggling to communicate. When that thought creeps into your mind, hold it back. Try being patient with them. Being an immigrant is a constantly humbling experience. Do you really want to be the person doing the humbling?
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou
Side note, take a look at the photo gallery page, I’ve added more photos of Rome & Bolivia!
*Laura if you’re reading this, thanks for the inspiration