Being gringo

14 Aug

I will be home(ish) at this time tomorrow. Closer to home than I’ve been in six weeks, at least.

I’ll be on my way to my sister’s house after 43 days of Latin America. After 43 days of new lands, new people, new culture, new plants, new everything.

I will return to the familiar, to what I’ve known my whole life, to hot showers, brightly lit signs, a land of commercialized products, advertisements, and the other amenities (for good or bad) that coincide with life in a country of abundance.

It’s difficult to fully process the trip while I am still gone. I think several weeks, perhaps months, of life at home will help me understand the impact of being here, of being away.

I do, however, have some partially cooked thoughts that have been bouncing around my mind.

I think that I will miss living in a world where the culture is not my own. I love being the foreigner, the minority.

New York, specifically Washington Heights, has its own culture and I am not the majority in my neighborhood, but we are still in the states and that changes the dynamic.

The combination of not fluently speaking the language, not fully understanding the culture, not being the same color, having lighter hair, and generally being different has given me an odd freedom that I had never known.

I can get away with infinitely more than I can at home.

I am a bit of a square peg and don’t always fit into the conventions of the society around me. But when I speak the language I am forced to explain myself.

In Latin America, however, I can simply shrug my shoulders and give a confused look.

The “damas” single stall is occupied and I just drank three bottles of water so I use the “hombres” stall.

Sorry. No hablo español.

I go to the beach and sleep on the sand. No blanket. No sunscreen.

Just the weird white (but a much darker shade of white) girl.

I draw all of the time. Everywhere I go.

Weird white artist girl.

I love it.

There is no expectation of explanation for not fitting into the mold.

I will miss that freedom. I don’t like having to explain myself.

Conversely, it’s been so frustrating to not be able to communicate when I actually want to. Very few people will slow down, use their hands, and be patient enough to understand a confused non-native.

That was difficult for me. That was stretching.

You can only say, “mas despacio. Deeeeeessssspppppaaaaaaciooo” so many times in one day.

That’s when my face starts to tell the story and I can’t hide my frustration.

Paciencia, Kelly, pacencia.

I think that seeing both sides of this coin helped me to see my students in a new light. I have several students that do not communicate well in english. I have students, at times, that do not speak any English.

I realized that there are situations when theses students know exactly what they are doing, but it’s easier to shrug it off and play the language card. I did plenty of that.

I realized that there are times when these students desperately need to be understood and simply cannot communicate. I felt this way often.

If nothing else, seeing, feeling, and experiencing both sides of the coin will make me a better teacher to my second language students.

I think it will also make me a better New Yorker. I think I’ll notice the drifter much more quickly and have a chance to speak slowly, in patience and love, to a wandering soul.

Much more is bound to come from my time here. More lessons. More applications.

More time to process.

Patience, gentleness, and discernment seem like decent places to start.



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