New Language, New You

I have recently returned from a semester abroad and since my return I have been reflecting a lot on the way it changed me and the ways in which my exchange experience differed from what I expected it to be like.

When I went on exchange to France I knew to expect culture shock, I knew to expect challenges with speaking a different language, and I knew to expect a change in myself, but what I didn’t know is the way in which these things would affect me. Primarily, I didn’t know how much a foreign environment could impact my identity.

I didn’t expect that the person I was so used to being existed only in English. I didn’t realize that in losing my ability to communicate in my own language, I would also lose the articulate confidence and the sarcastic humour that are integral parts of who I am. I didn’t realize that in creating a life in a new language, I would be simultaneously creating a new version of myself. This version was timid, anxious and flustered.

As I grew to care less about making mistakes, as I made better friends and as I gradually improved in French, the two versions of myself – the confident, witty, English girl and the shy, careful, French girl – started to merge a little. Near the end of the semester I no longer felt like I was fighting myself, but rather I felt comfortable that these two identities could co-exist harmoniously inside me.

The exchange experience has been more challenging than I ever could have imagined, but it’s also been amazing, eye opening, and extremely worthwhile. For those of you who feel trapped by a language in which you can’t be yourself, my advice to you is this: Be patient. It takes awhile of interacting with people, making mistakes, and trying again before you start to be comfortable with this new side of yourself. But you’ll get there, and you’ll love it when you do.

Avignon, France.

You may also like...