I never felt foreign. Growing up, my parents were foreign to me. They did not speak English very well, which meant I had to translate things for them. Whenever we would go to the grocery store, they would ask me to speak with the cashier or what a product was. At some point, I was annoyed by the constant questions.
There was never question about where I belonged. I was American and I knew the language. There are so many parts of being apart of a community but most importantly, you have to know the language of the country. It’s a means of communicating with other members of society and understanding one another.
When I landed in Athens this week, I saw foreign letters on top of English words. I felt that this was not my country. I felt foreign for the first time. People spoke English but it is not common. I kind of found myself in my parent’s shoes.
Walking around the neighborhood near my campus, there are many shops names that are in Greece. I walked into the local grocery store, and almost everything was in Greek. I did not know what anything said. The only clue I have is the picture on the label and I felt like an outsider. I wanted someone there to translate things for me and explain how things work. When I went to pay for my items, the cashier only knew a few words of English but not enough to told a conversation.
Granted, it has only been a few days but I know that I will become familiar with the area with time. I just can’t help thinking this is what my parents felt like. Coming to another country without knowing the language is a scary thing. I want to say the transition will be easy, but it won’t. I have to keep in mind that this is another country, where English is not as common.
When I was younger, I used wonder why parents did not know English that well. All I wanted was for my parents to know English and forget Arabic. At home, my siblings and I are not allowed to speak in English. My parents always encourage us to speak Arabic. My siblings and I are always confused about that. Everywhere we went, people spoke English and we felt that there was no need for Arabic. Language is important and knowing more than one is an admirable skill to have. Being in world that is so diverse, I have found myself using my Arabic skills more often than I thought.
This is what my parents went through. If my parents were able to manage all this time without knowing English that well, I can manage a few months. I’ve never felt like a foreigner but here I am experiencing a new country. As the saying goes, what goes around, comes around. I never thought I would find myself in my parents shoes struggling with a language and a country that is not mine. I have a better appreciation of language and its importance.