My take on Matador Network’s “15 delusions I’ve had about returning home after being abroad”

I stumbled upon this article today, and think it’s fairly relevant seeing as I’m heading home soon, after, well, a 2014 where I’ve spent three months at home in total – which isn’t exactly crazy seeing as a lot of people travel for twelve months, or move abroad for a couple of years, and then return.  But, prior to this year I’d only spent five weeks abroad all at once, so it’s the most relevant it’s been for me so far.

Here’s a look at which of these I think have been, or will be, accurate in my case (with modifications thrown in when necessary):

1. I’m totally going to wear these Thai fisherman vivid pink north Argentinian pants back home.

I so am.  I already have, during my month at home between work placement abroad and erasmus – which also kind of gives me an insight into how true these all are.

Not delusional about this one.  They are super comfy, and I encountered more than enough staring on my travels to not really care about it anymore.  Next.

2. I’m going to use my Korean Spanish and French language skills all the time.

No.  I’m not going to kid myself about this one.  If the opportunity comes up, maybe in the form of a lost Spanish or French-speaking tourist, or someone who simply wants to speak either language to me at home for some reason, then yes, obviously, I’d be delighted to, but I don’t see that happening too often.

Even if I was living in a tourist hotspot, most people who visit Ireland know some English, and even if they only knew Spanish or French, I’d probably be so surprised it wouldn’t even register with me until too late.

3. By golly! Hon! I’m going to visit a museum in my own city. Why not?

I don’t live in a city or all that near to many museums, so no.  However, there’s at least one that I know of where I go to college (so knowledgeable), and I considered visiting it before, so maybe someday I’ll visit it.  Yeah, I’d like to.  But I would not bet too surprised if it didn’t happen for ages.

4. My home peeps are going to be so excited to see me.

They’re surely used to me being gone by now, and it’s only a couple of months since I saw a lot of them.  So nah, hardly.  Okay there’ll be a little bit of fuss over seeing people for the first time, but not much, I’m home for a while this time sure.

The dog is gonna go crazy though.

5. I’m going to start using public transportation.

I already have, whenever it’s been available.  (Kind of off the point but if Ireland could take the best of mainland European transport and have a lot of that even connecting villages with town and towns with cities that would be sound!  And actually if Europe could get buses like the ones in Argentina, with similar comfort and pricing too…  Yeah.  I’ll keep dreaming.  Covoiturage (BlaBlaCar) though, that can become a thing in Ireland.  Without even costing billions, or anything at all, to get it started.)

6. Friends and family will want to hear ALL the details of my international escapades.

Nope!  A bit more like this, really:

Me:  “Well.”

Friend:  “Listen to her, ‘Argentina this, Argentina that…’, does she ever stop?!”

And that’s why I miss my friends when I’m away.

7. They’re also going to appreciate my handmade photo album.

Didn’t make one.

8. I don’t need the new iPhone. I don’t need anything.

I don’t need anything.  I need to avoid getting an actual smartphone for as long as possible.  But I want one.  Kind of.  While simultaneously not wanting one.  So we’ll see how that goes.

Really though, I don’t need anything more than what I’ve managed to fit into a suitcase and carry-on luggage while switching countries.  I don’t even need all of what I’ve brought, and I no longer want to own more clothes than can fit in my luggage, but, reducing the amount of clothes I have to close to that would result in people wondering why I always wear the same clothes, why I don’t have a new dress for almost every night out, and the likes.  So it would be challenging purely because of that.  But I would like to have less clothes seeing as no matter how much I have, I’m still probably going to wear the same stuff most of the time anyway.  This delusion therefore, is fairly strong, for the moment, I guess.

9. I’m going to get a real job.

I’m a student, so finding proper, full-time employment isn’t something there’s much point in me wasting time worrying over yet.  Part-time work would be great though.  *Begs employers*

10. All my new travel mates and I are going to rendezvous in Morocco in five years! I’m going back to Argentina some day.

Delusional?  I hope not.  There’s far too much left to see there.  And simply because of the people, the culture, the language, the food…

11. I’m not going to return to the S.A.D. diet. (Standard American Diet) eat well when I get home

Best of luck to me.  I mean, I’m going home at Christmas.  You can’t avoid certain unhealthy foods  at Christmas (chocolaaaaate!).  It’s practically illegal.

I will eat more fruit and veg though.  And less baguettes.

12. I’m not going to drink so much.

This is likely, but I don’t drink much as it is, and never have much in Ireland.  So to drink less, I’d almost have to go back to complete sobriety.  I might do that.  Or I might just have a drink occasionally whenever I feel like it, because that will most probably be possible without tonnes of abuse for not always drinking on a night out, and not getting hammered even if I do.  Hon!

13. I’m going to throw the best Spanish/Thai/Vietnamese/Arabic dinner party ever! cook something Argentinian (empanadas) again while at home. And I’ll try making crêpes.

Realistic enough targets, I think, depending on the time limit.

14. I’m going to really put my new boxe française/tango skills as a Thai massage therapist/belly dancer/Hapkido yellow belt to good use.

Define “skills”…

15. I can’t wait to get home!

Agreeing with the author of the article on this one, finally going home after being away can be over hyped .  And I think it will be great, but eventually, yeah, it’ll probably go back to how it always was, and I may not meet up with people as much as I’d like, or y’know do a lot of kind of touristy things in Ireland while I’m there.  But Christmas will be lovely, as will having more time with my family, and heading back to college with my friends after a full year away from it will be amazing too (college work aside).  Really, it’ll only be disappointing in any way, if I allow it to be.  So I’m still really looking forward to it, even if I’ll miss a lot of stuff from the places I’ve been.  Travel is great but family and friends aren’t the worst either.  (And that is my completely chill way of not straight up expressing just how brilliant it will be to see everyone at home again, and completely playing down the whole thing.  Except that kind of undoes it, doesn’t it?  Oops.)

Why I’ve started experimenting with a certain drug

For the first twenty years of my life, I was sober. I somehow managed to defy the Irish stereotype which ultimately results in the notion that we, as a nation, are “fond of the drink”. I avoided the drug for longer than most people expected, or indeed thought was normal, seeing as I got a lot of questioning over it.  Strangely, much more so as an underage non-drinker, which eventually resulted in me sadly giving up on the battle with peer pressure, and having about enough drinks to count on one hand, while I was seventeen.  I then turned eighteen, and decided that because I could now legally drink, it was an ideal time to give up drinking (logical, eh?), not that I’d ever really started.

Yes, the drug I’m talking about is alcohol.  Many people don’t consider it a drug, but it is.  Apparently, it’s more harmful than heroin and cocaine, though that could just be based on the sheer number of people who cause harm to themselves or others because of alcohol, compared to other drugs.  Look at me, referencing things I haven’t a clue about – you’d swear this was an assignment!

I have literally started drinking in the hope that it will improve my college results. No, seriously. This is basically an experiment to see if it will. That or I’ll become a fully fledged alcoholic, only time will tell.

The craic may also secretly be a factor, but it’s more empowering and mildly amusing for me to think of it as a means of helping my education.

I study languages. My course involves a huge amount of travel – we generally spend between a year, and a year and a half of our four-year course, abroad – usually in two different countries. The idea of this, of course, is that we greatly improve upon the languages we study. Naturally, this involves meeting a lot of new people, and often being in situations where you’re both the only outsider, and the only one non-native speaker of the language. It’s often difficult being an outsider when you can speak the local language, but add to this an inability to express yourself clearly, or communicate with others easily, and it makes for some tricky situations.

And that’s where the alcohol comes in. I’ve both noticed, and been told, that alcohol makes people talk more.  Even when it’s not in a language they’re fluent in – that doesn’t matter. The alcohol doesn’t care. It just thinks you should speak. A lot. So you do.

(Not exactly a groundbreaking discovery here, but, as I may have hinted before, speaking a language actually helps you improve it. Probably more so than any other form of study.)

Basically, I could spend all day in the library studying French grammar, or I could go out in a French-speaking area, have a few drinks, and chat away with people in French for the night. The latter sounds like more fun, and could very well be more beneficial. Yes, it’s times like this that I rediscover my love for my course. You know, when our assignments are basically to go travel and have the craic in whatever languages we’re studying (*ahem* as well as, of course, work and study and all that…), rather than readings and essays and the likes.

Sure, I can easily talk plenty without alcohol, but I’ve found that it requires a lot of effort, sometimes, and that even when I’m confident enough in my ability to communicate, I end up being really quiet in large groups.  Or just in general, when it comes to languages other than English. I’m used to embarrassing myself by needing a few attempts at saying what I’m trying to say, or simply saying things incorrectly, or being misunderstood because of my accent (if I had a euro for every time someone thought I said I was from ‘Holanda’, or ‘Hollande’, instead of ‘Irlanda’, or ‘Irlande’…). I don’t care as much about that anymore. But I’ve found that when I am brave enough to chat in groups, that it sometimes takes me a while to pluck up the courage to do so, or that I simply don’t do it enough. And it’s sad relying on alcohol to counteract that, but honestly, it’s way easier, and far more efficient.  (I’m lazy.)

So there you go. I really have given up being a non-drinker for the purpose of language learning. That, and I won’t lie, after a few years you do get a little sick of being completely sober while a minority of extremely drunk people are generally just being irritating on nights out (the majority of course being great craic – genuinely, otherwise I wouldn’t be out with them), but I don’t think that alone would have caused me to start drinking.

*Spoiler* I’ll probably return to the non-drinker life again soon enough.  That or I’ll just continue to barely drink, being the lightweight that I am, and will probably have more non-alcoholic nights out than ones where I drink, even if people don’t seem to get why I’d want to do that.  At least if I quit, I’ll now finally get to say “I’ve been sober for X months/years”, which might be a fun challenge to keep track of.  That and maybe people would react more positively to that than the old “yeah I never really drank” line.

And that concludes this episode of reasons to drink, according to Sarah.

Cheers.

(I’m sorry okay I’m terrible for attempting to make puns, or laughing at even the worst ones.  I don’t think that even counts.)

 

(If you’re wondering why I avoided alcohol for so long, seeing as most people ask, or at least are probably a little curious about it, I’ll get to that another day, it would take far too long to explain in this post.)

How to learn a language while on erasmus

All you need to do, is make sure English is not your native language.  And no matter where you do your erasmus, you will probably learn a lot of English.  Plus whatever the local language is, assuming it’s not English.  Two for the price of one.  Did I mention you’ll learn English?

What I’m trying to say is, it’s extremely difficult for native English speakers to learn other languages because it seems like everyone studies English and knows enough for conversation.  In fact, more often than not, they’ll know it better than the local language when on erasmus.

In other words, I’m blaming my lack of progression with French on what I’ve just said above.

In other words, being a native English speaker is fantastic (you’ll almost always be able to find other English-speakers no matter where you go) – unless you want to learn a language.

In other words, I’d really like to learn some French.

I was right to be terrified about erasmus…

It turns out my fear was justifiable.  I’ve spoken almost entirely in English so far (I got here yesterday).  It’s a nightmare.  I need to avoid it, but can’t.  Maybe after orientation and all that I’ll be able to settle in properly and actually speak French as much as I’d like to.

So far, it’s been nowhere near enough – an occasional question or encounter with university staff or shop assistants, but basically nothing else.  Which has made me realise that my French is terrible now.  I can barely ask basic things, and attempting to hold a conversation just fries my brain.  I keep speaking Spanish by accident (things like ‘bueno’ and ‘gracías’, mainly, as well as normally saying ‘y’ instead of ‘et’).  I hope that doesn’t last.

I don’t want to forget my Spanish or the tiny bit of an Argentinian accent I may have picked up when saying certain phrases, but I don’t want to keep letting Spanish get in the way of learning French.  Quel cauchmar.

My pronunciation is terrible too.  I just don’t remember how you’re supposed to pronounce things in French  – vowels, the letters ‘c’ and ‘j’, and even where to put the emphasis in a word.

Basic vocabulary too, grammar – you name it, I’ve probably forgotten it.

Everything is really expensive as well.  So that’s awful.

On a happier note, it’s quite sunny.

Why I’m terrified about going on erasmus

Yes, that does say “terrified”, you’re not hallucinating…

But erasmus sounds amazing? Yes, yes it does.

And didn’t you just spend five months living in Argentina? Yes, yes I did.

So then what’s the problem?!

My problem is, that the whole point of me going on erasmus, is to learn a language. Yes, that’s the point of most people going on erasmus, unless they study abroad, but in a place where their native language is also the local one. However, most people who speak English don’t learn as much on erasmus, well, as I’d like to. I’m not saying that they’re stupid and I’m aiming to learn much more because I’m clearly better than them. I’m not. They probably don’t want to learn a language as much as I do. Or, want to put their erasmus to what they think is better use – maybe by getting to know people from all over the world, and just enjoying the whole experience. And I don’t disagree with them at all. Both of those are hugely important to me too. You can’t just go on erasmus and be stuck in dictionaries and grammar books for the whole time you’re there. I have no intention of that. I just want to improve my French.

Unfortunately though, English is quite a universal language especially when it comes to Europe, and most students who do erasmus speak some English – therefore (and because many of them are native English speakers) it automatically becomes the language they speak with each other, rather than the local language, which they obviously have to know, or at least learn at some point, too. Often, the local language is their third language, and English their second, so it’s actually easier for them to speak English.

This is fantastic if your first language is not English – you can do one erasmus and improve hugely at two languages.

As a native English speaker though, I’m filled with dread at the thought of having to try so hard to avoid speaking English with others in France, if it will even be possible – I won’t be able to completely escape it, but I will speak it as little as possible. Basically, I’m setting myself up to have no friends on erasmus, because I will run a mile from all the lovely erasmus students who (quite harmlessly) dare to speak to me in English, and even the French ones who do the same. Erasmus students don’t generally mix that much with other students and it’s because of this that I’m scared about going on erasmus. I’d rather not have no friends, but I don’t want to only make friends with people who solely speak English to me. In France, I mean. Obviously at home that’s fairly tolerable.

I am a native English speaker, I swear!

I think this blog could be a good way of keeping track of my deteriorating English if (I mean when) I continue to post regularly. It’s already gotten quite bad just from spending five months in Argentina (yeah that’s a thing I did, I might write about it later…). Since I’ve gotten home there have been so many occasions where I literally couldn’t get across exactly what I was trying to say, couldn’t think of a particular word that I needed, or just directly translated phrases I’d learned in Spanish into English, which ends up sounding a bit weird because although they make sense, we don’t use those exact phrases.

That and actually speaking in Spanish accidentally a few times. Now I don’t mean blurting out whole sentences in Spanish, but a few phrases now and then, like “ay díos” or “¡díos mio!”* if something goes wrong, or annoys me, or “¿qué sé yo?”** pretty much if anyone asks me a question ever. It’s nice that I picked up these phrases, and remember them, but it would be handier if I didn’t use them when meant to be speaking English…

And then there’s the hand gestures. I’ve attempted to teach one or two to friends from home, and one even caught on for a while, but I’m not sure I’m going to succeed in making them a permanent part of Irish culture just yet. Sometimes I find myself doing them and almost have to grab my hand and lower it back down into a more regular, motionless state so I can converse like a normal Irish person again.

Now France is going to influence how I communicate too, and if I manage to avoid speaking English a lot there then my English will surely get even worse. I don’t want to be awful at English, but I like to think that if my English is getting bad then surely my other languages are improving, right? …But then I find words I don’t understand in other languages and look up their meanings only to find that they’re the same in English, and realise I may need to work on improving my English for once.

But I thought I was a native speaker?!

* = “oh god” or “my god!”
** = “what do I know?”

The internet and language learning

I have a theory. Which I haven’t had a chance to test yet, but it’s fairly obvious and likely to be correct. Basically, the internet can be the most detrimental thing to a person’s language learning.

Hear me out.

I mean when abroad, in the country of their target language, it’ll be the internet which will slow down or inhibit their second language acquisition.

Obviously enough (duh Sarah), it will make you think in your native language, unless you never use the internet in your own language, which would be extremely rare. Say you’re a native English speaker. You go on Facebook – English! You check the news at home – English! You read your emails – English! You open Twitter – English! You Skype someone at home – English! You do almost anything – English! Every time you use the internet in these situations, you revert back to English, your comfort zone.

God Sarah this so obvious to anyone with any common sense why are you even blogging about it god.

I’m writing about this now because soon I’ll be moving continent for a few months, and doing my best to absorb and use as much Spanish as I can. But I’m going to want to keep in touch with people at home too. And that will have to be through English. Which will hinder my attempts to immerse myself in Spanish a lot.

So what can I do? Delete Facebook while I’m abroad? Delete Twitter? Ignore the world at home? Avoid reading my emails for months? Skype home less often? Okay so all of that would probably help but it would be likely to make me a lot more distant from my friends and family. And I don’t want that.

Solution (and maybe a challenge I can take up): Hugely limit my use of social networks while I’m away. That alone would probably help a lot, no matter how challenging it would be.

Then again, I don’t know what part of Argentina I’m going to yet. I might not have internet. Which would be awful. Or, in light of everything I’ve just written, would be the best thing that could happen… (I’ve jinxed it now, haven’t I?)

Hasta pronto,
Sarah