Communication has been interesting for me here. I have learned really well how to say, “Estou aqui para fazer pesquisa sobre como as campanhas políticas usam os novos meios de comunicação,” which means “I am here to conduct research on how the political campaigns use new media technologies.” This is a bit misleading, however, because my Portuguese is not quite that good. I have trained myself to remember how to say that. Everything thereafter is an adventure. Sometimes I can answer the most complex of questions and then I look like a deer in the headlights when someone asks if I’m going to the center of town that day. It is an uncomfortable feeling at times, but a necessary one on the road to actually learning the language. I have one friend, Tiago, in Brasília who has really taken the time to sit with me and allow me to converse with him. He is patient with me, corrects me when need be, but he gives me time to get my thoughts out, no matter how painstakingly long they are. It has been in these conversations that I actually surprise myself with my ability with the language. “Hey,” says my inner Jason, “I just had a full conversation about pedagogic philosophies in academia.”
The trick to any language, however, is in the rushing river that is everyday conversations. You just have to let yourself get swept up in it and paddle as best you can for as long as you can. It’s ok to rest from time to time, I do so by talking to my wife on Skype in Spanish or through letting someone here practice their English with me. The truth? IT’S HARD, REAL HARD. Everyone around you is speaking not only in an advanced manner in a language you are not totally familiar with, but there is a cultural barrier as well. Even if you spoke the same language, you have to learn about the context in which they live and the experiences they have had that you would never have dreamed of having in your own world. This means everything from the pop culture icons they know, the TV shows they watched as kids, the vacations they have taken, their perspectives on politics and culture itself and most importantly you have to learn about how they view your culture. This can be jarring to many people because the image we have of ourselves is not always the image others have of us.
But here’s the selling point. This “South of My Comfort Zone” experiment in the end opens up so many more doors for me in the long run. Right now, even as I write this, I can feel my mind stretching. It is getting the workout of a lifetime. And just like with physical exercise, the benefits are endless if you stick with it and keep at it. The work is hard, but the benefits down the road are endless.
Até mais amigos.