At the end of the school year, I asked my international students if they had any advice for American students based on their year here in the United States. They all responded “travel outside the country.”
I traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Mexico City and began negotiating my way through customs, money exchange, and an airport restaurant, I completely understood what it meant to be a non-native speaker. I could see all the international students that I had taught or tutored as we practiced their English in scripted situations. I hoped all that practice helped them when they found themselves in real speaking situations in the United States, just as I was hoping in each line that I stood that all my practice in my Spanish classes was going to pay off in these very real speaking situations in Mexico.
During my stay in Cuernavaca, I experienced the lifestyle of the nuns with daily devotions and silent meditative breakfast; I tasted traditional, authentic Mexican food cooked in the home of an indigenous person; I heard from university professors about the political, social, and economic history of Mexico; I saw children in an orphanage eager to learn; and I touched history at the Aztec ruins we visited.
I also learned how to meet in the middle when I bought mine and my fiancé’s wedding rings at the local silver market in Cuernavaca. There wasn’t a ring my size, but I didn’t know how to say “size down” in Spanish. So I asked the woman behind the table “cuándo yo llegue en los Estados Unidos, puedo cambiar los añillos?” This literally translates to “when I arrive in the United States, can I change the rings?” I also added a hand motion of a shrinking circle to help. She responded “claro que sí” – of course! I knew just enough Spanish to ask my question – albeit literally translated – and she had enough experience with tourists to know I had asked a literally translated question. We understood each other, and I now will always have a reminder to meet my husband in the middle.
At the final devotion session with the sisters, we were asked to bring an object that represented what the Guadalupe Experience had meant to us. I brought my Spanish-English dictionary. I didn’t always know the right word to say, and I sometimes constructed incorrect syntax, and I definitely butchered several pronunciations. However, to me, the experience meant in stepping outside of my boundaries and in trying to speak each other’s languages, we were able to begin a dialogue to make the world a better place.
I believe in travel. The more we travel, the more we shed light in every corner of the world. The more we travel, the more we understand people who visit our corner of the world from their corners of the world. The more we travel, the more we truly become citizens of the world.
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