Ogden Nash said,
“Foreigners are people somewhere else,
Natives are people at home
If the place you’re at
Is your habitat
You’re a foreigner, say, in Rome.”
As a general rule, Americans take one of two different views about foreign countries, and, in my experience, both of these views are bullshit.
A) We are the greatest country in the world! Everyone else pales before us! We have more freedom, better everything and everything outside of America that isn’t like us is worse!
B) We’re all citizens of the world. There is no such thing as a “foreign country”. Any differences between us and other countries is just superficial and a matter of preference. There is no better or worse. Just go with the flow.
If you know me at all, you may have gathered that I am not so much of a “go with the flow” kind of person. Let me give you an example of the things that might make you crazy in Chile:
Obvious point number 1 (presented by Captain Obvious in her obvious hat)
People in Chile do all business in Spanish.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to do business in your second language? Almost everything takes two or three times as long as you need to look up every seventh word, especially in anything technical.
I’m seldom 100% sure that I understood 100% of what the other person said or that they understood me. This ‘seldom’ is an upgrade from ‘never’ when I first arrived here in February.
Things that don’t take two or three times as long take 5 times as long. Writing and preparing for a 30-minute presentation in English takes me about 4 hours to write it, revise it, create a powerpoint and practice it to make sure it really is 30 minutes. In Spanish, it probably takes me 20 and I know it still isn’t as good as if I did it in English.
Some people in the US complain of the ‘waste of money’ having so many of our government documents in multiple languages. Having seen how time-consuming it is to work in another language, I actually am in favor of how this money is spent. It saves a huge amount of our U.S. citizens’ / residents’ / visitors’ time.
There is also the fact that I’m never quite sure if any problems I encounter are due to my less than perfect Spanish or something else. For example, I was in a meeting recently where the response was, let me just say, odd. I asked a Chilean if that was because they didn’t understand my Spanish and was told, “I had the same response from them, and since I am from Chile, I’m pretty sure my Spanish is good enough.” Wait for my post on “Chile has different cultures.”
I believe it will pay off in the long run – obviously, or I wouldn’t still be here. We have gotten more meetings and signed up more schools as pilots than we did within 2 years of starting our company in the US – and we’ve only been here five months.
I’ve spent so much time revising my presentations in Spanish over and over, it’s made me think more about what is important to people in education, both in the U.S. and Chile.
It’s made me think even more how important it is to learn a second language. Good thing we have apps for that. Download one today. Seriously, take my word for it, you never know when life will change and you will REALLY wish you had acted on it all of those times you said, “I should work on my Spanish.”
Take your pick:
AzTech: The Story Begins – Mr. Gonzalez history class loses an average of 2 students per year. What happens to them? Find the answer while learning fractions, statistics and Latin American history. (Click here to get on the web)
AzTech: Meet the Maya – Mayan history and statistics, in Spanish and English