Sure, we make fun of their accents, but many people from different parts of the world are not just surviving, they’re thriving. Which makes me wonder, do they know something I don’t? My parents, both immigrants, have shown me that there are different ways of learning, healing, speaking, and living. I believe we can learn from other countries and they can learn from us.
Every other summer, my mom takes me and my sister to Germany to visit her parents. These trips have been very eye-opening for me. One day, I was listening to the adults talk around the coffee table, catching snippets of the language I’d known since birth, but still somehow forgot. I realized they were discussing the 9/11 Commission Report. I asked why they were reading it. One man said, “We want to know what’s going on in the world”. I realized these people probably knew more about other countries that I did about my own. Lesson Number One: There’s more going on in the world than NBC lets on.
I also noticed a difference between my medicine cabinet and my grandma’s. If I have a headache, I swallow a Tylenol. It’s not like that in other countries. Eastern doctors use acupuncture and herbs to help their sick. Massage, yoga, sauna, and preventive treatments are used around the world. Lesson Two: If you have a headache, turn off the TV and take a nap.
One of my best memories of Germany is visiting my aunt’s classroom. The only noticeable difference is that there was a higher emphasis on foreign language. My parents each speak three languages: their native tongue, English, and French. Lesson Three: Knowing a foreign language can, and probably will, be helpful in the future.
My favorite part of traveling is seeing how other people live day to day. Other cultures don’t seem so hurried. They take afternoon breaks. They stop to talk in the streets. Meals are social occasions full of conversation. Lesson Number Four: Slow down.
In Germany, I’m on my best behavior. Europeans have enough negative ideas about Americans without my brilliant help. Now I’m the foreigner. It’s my turn to teach. Lesson Number Five: Stereotypes are laughable. Americans are much more than gas-guzzling, gun-toting, multitasking, and flag-raising hicks.
My parents’ accents are daily reminders that English wasn’t their first language. They had lives somewhere else before I came along to start the party. It’s easy for me to forget that there’s a world full of people who don’t speak English and who don’t see the world the way I do. Their way isn’t wrong, it’s just different. I am reminded of that when I travel. I’m the one with the accent there.
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