Sorry I Can’t Speak

While rummaging through an old travel wallet, I came across a memento that I had tucked away during my time in Vietnam. When my friends and I checked into our hostel dorm room in Hanoi, we found a guy there quietly reading in his bunk. He seemed friendly and made an effort to exchange a few words with me in English before leaving the room. When I came back later that day, he had checked out but left this note on my pillow: hostel note- hanoi Coming across this note got me thinking about my relationship with languages. I grew up in a bilingual home, studied French in middle and high school, and earned a BA in Italian, yet I still get anxious whenever I’m in a position to practice speaking any of these languages, despite the years I spent learning each one.

This is a struggle that dates all the way back to age 3 when my family moved back to the U.S. from Israel. I suddenly went mute for an entire year when we got to the States and wouldn’t speak to anyone outside of my home. I was the silent girl in preschool until one day I must have felt like I knew English well enough to finally speak. As the years went on and English became my first language, the tables turned and to this day I don’t feel really comfortable speaking Hebrew—even when my mom talks to me in Hebrew, I reply in English.

I have always envied those people who can confidently engage in a conversation in a second language, no matter how broken or flawed. I’m a self-critical perfectionist, so when I’m in a situation in which I can speak Hebrew or Italian (French now requires a lot of wine to count as a language that I speak), I tend to freeze up and worry more about finding the correct tenses and words than enjoy the opportunity to practice and connect.

Ironically, I feel much more confident in countries where I have never studied the language and just picked up words and phrases along the way. When I travel in Latin America I love fumbling my way through a basic Spanish conversation. I imagine that this has something to do with the fact that I never formally studied Spanish, so I don’t know where I am making mistakes or feel the pressure that I should know more than I actually do.

Being able to speak with and understand someone is such an empowering and barrier-breaking tool. I get so much joy out of the process of learning a language, but I struggle with letting go and accepting the imperfections to allow room for connection on a more human level.

This self-imposed pressure is something I want to change, and the recent opening of an Italian-run gelato shop in my neighborhood has presented itself as a perfect opportunity to start challenging myself to speak up. I mean, if gelato can’t get me to do something, I may as well give up all hope.

On my first visit I forced myself to speak despite the numerous fumbles. It was embarrassing and continues to be so, but I try to let go and have fun with it. And you know what? They appreciate the effort in the same way that I was touched by Manabu’s effort to connect.

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In what ways have you kept up your language skills when you are off the road?

Possibility of Visit

What a strange sensation. Writing when I’m not on the road? This is a first.

The itch to write about my travels never goes away, but when I get home from each adventure, despite the best of intentions to keep up the habit, daily life has always gotten the best of me.

However! Two recent events led me to finally commit, as they both capture the essence of this blog and my travel philosophy. Little did I know that they would both tie together in the most unexpected and delightful way.

First up: my new (and first!) tattoo. As I explain on the krama wheel website:

“Possibility of Visit,” a simple signpost I saw while exploring Angkor Wat, really stuck with me after my first visit to Cambodia.  It was a poor translation in terms of pointing you in the right direction through the temple, but the literal translation could not have been more poignant…  

As a lifelong world wanderer, it was a poetic reminder of all the possibilities travel has opened up for me. Clearly the phrase resonated with me enough to want it permanently inked on my body, but I sat on it for four years before finding the courage to take the plunge.

Finally, after months of researching tattoo artists, pinteresting calligraphers, and polling friends for their opinions on what getting a tattoo feels like, I realized that I had done as much preparing (read: procrastinating) as possible. I commissioned the calligrapher. I paid the tattoo deposit. I booked the date. There was no turning back.

tattoo   Possibility of Visit

After all was said and done, I realized that getting the tattoo was more fitting for this inaugural post than I originally intended. Yes, the words reflect my travel M.O., but so did the process. I had a vision that excited me, I did my legwork, I self-imposed a point of no return and I threw myself into the unknown. There were unexpected pinches of discomfort and the first time was frightening going in, but the long-term joy it brings far outweighs the initial fear.

Which brings me to event #2: World Domination Summit in Portland. I have been following Chris Guillebeau’s work for a few years now and have been itching to attend his epic annual gathering ever since I first learned about it. But I made plenty of excuses: You’ll never score a ticket! You can’t afford that! And most importantly: You won’t know anyone!

So I did what I knew I had to do. I pulled out my credit card and clicked the button. All of a sudden, I was going to World Domination Summit.

Fast-forward ten months to this past weekend and this introvert set out to Portland with a short list of goals:

–       Learn from remarkable people

–       Meet remarkable people

I was dreading the latter but vowed that whenever I had the urge to pull out my phone or find the closest corner, I would instead strike up a conversation with the person next to me. With that challenge in mind, I dove into a sea of 2,500 strangers not knowing how I would come out on the other end.

Chris Guillebeau at WDS

Chris Guillebeau at WDS

And you know what? It turned out to be pretty damn remarkable. I found myself surrounded by my people, and there is something about being among your people that makes you feel fearless and alive. Each conversation was imbued with the same energy of those I’ve had on my travels.

WDS was also a reminder that the universe does some pretty serendipitous things when you know you are exactly where you are meant to be.

Case in point, I found out a couple of days before the conference that the woman who designed my tattoo actually lives in Portland. Not only that, she was attending the conference! And so, we met.

mara

High five, universe!

But it went a step further…

On Sunday I joined a small group of people to watch the World Cup final over lunch. I started talking to the woman next to me at the table. She was from London, loved to travel and was sharing her stories on a blog of her own. A kindred spirit! Let’s keep in touch! Hold each other accountable to write! We exchanged cards. I looked at hers and was speechless. Her blog was called Wander Well. My blog was called The Wander Well, a play on my email sign off. It had been designed yet dormant and unpublished since I bought my ticket to WDS nearly a year ago, and I was finally committed to launching it after the conference.

MIND. BLOWN. I didn’t know how to process this small world moment, but I knew it meant something. Something good and right. I just had to process it.

So I sat with it on my flight back to Austin and it finally clicked as I looked back at my original, unpublished post about my tattoo. Possibility of Visit. Yes. OF COURSE that’s my blog name.

And with that, a first post that was meant to either tell the story of a tattoo or a conference ended up weaving them both together in ways I never expected. And it was all due to putting myself out there in the world.

It takes a lot of courage to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, especially on your own, but the possibilities that each visit opens up are immeasurable. I look forward to sharing many more of my stories with you here.

wander well,

Roni

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Do you have any crazy small world travel stories? If so, share below and help inaugurate my comments section!