Thursday, April 21, 2011


I'm frustrated.

I have lived in Bulgaria for 23 months. And nearly every day I attempt to speak Bulgarian. I am fully aware that my Bulgarian language is not top notch. I wish it were. But that's not my point.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer gives us a lot of opportunity to view things from a different perspective than we often would in America. One of those ideas that I've spent a lot more time thinking about are the people in America who are trying to learn and speak English, yet we become frustrated and irritated with them due to the lack of understanding. Living and speaking in Bulgaria has given me a whole new perspective. Because now the tables are turned... I am the person who people can't understand.

Let me acknowledge the fact that most Bulgarians have been patient and understanding with me. The majority of people in my village are fantastic. Many thanks.

But there are those chosen few who as soon as I open my mouth give me a look of frustration and annoyance.  That look or tone makes me feel like an idiot. 

I am so over feeling like an idiot. I am 26 years old. I have a university degree. I know that I'm not dumb. Yet every once in awhile there are people who do a stellar job of making me feel like just that. I think it might be the fact that they've never really interacted with people whose first language is not Bulgarian. I try to not take it personally, but being spoken to in such a belittling way is beyond discouraging.

Which got me thinking... how often do "we" do this in America? America is a hodge-podge of cultures and languages. (Which I think is awesome and one of the best things about the USA!) Places in America provide English language lessons and sincerely want to help the people who are new to the States and want to learn English. But those of us who don't deal with this on a regular basis, how compassionate are we towards those who are struggling to learn and get by? Or how often do we just think, "These people are in America. Learn English."?

I can't imagine how hard it is to learn English since it's my native language. But I now understand the struggle of being in an environment where you are forced to learn and speak a completely new language. It's hard. No doubt about it. It's daunting and often makes you not want to speak with people. (Or maybe that's just me... ha!)

I think about those times that I was less than understanding with those people in America. Now I know what it feels like. And it's not a good feeling. It's frustrating when people are short with you. Or automatically give up trying to converse because it's a little more difficult. 

We should be lifting these people up, encouraging them to speak. Engaging them in conversation in order to improve their language. Listening to their words and what they have to say.

We need to be more compassionate and understanding of others. This goes to every single person, everywhere. Just because someone stumbles over their words doesn't mean that they are dumb, that they are not trying. No one should treat them that way. 

So let's make it about compassion. It'll make the world (and us) better. Promise.


Christie said...

Great post Valerie - I totally agree with you. Keep being brave and thanks for opening our eyes!

Vicki said...

Walking in someone else's profoundly it opens our eyes. So glad you wrote these thoughts down and shared them with us.

Catherine said...

Thank you for sharing. I remember this feeling while living in Montevideo, Uruguay. The first day I was there my roommate and I went to the post office so buy stamps to mail postcards to our friends and families. The post office man just laughed at me and shook his head. I turned the translation book to him and pointed at the word 'stamp' in spanish. He said the word in spanish back to me and in my head I wa thinking, "THAT IS WHAT I SAID". Your words were beatifully stated!