An expat teenager discovers the joy of learning new languages and cultures

Jul 23, 2015 | 0 comments

By Melina Marks

Sometimes, our greatest interests are not discovered until a life-changing event makes us notice them.

chl melina logoSome people are good at math, others are exceptional at science. Some, like me, who aren’t too fantastic at either of these things, have talents in other fields that aren’t so ‘textbook’ oriented.

Before moving to Cuenca, I had no idea that I had a love for learning different languages and cultures. Many people grow up and have all they can handle learning their native language, in their native country. When I was a regular teen, going to a regular high school in Norfolk, Virginia, not even learning my mother’s second tongue (Spanish) was of great importance to me. Now that I have lived in Ecuador for almost two years, my opinion couldn’t be more different.

chl language1

Learning a new language means you make new friends.

My Spanish, since moving here has gotten much better, but my current endeavor is learning German. I completed German I during my junior year of high school, which I am completing online (for details, click here), and plan to take German II and French I during my senior year.

Before coming to Cuenca, English was all I needed to know, and part of me didn’t care that there was a big world out there that I hadn’t seen. The idea of travelling has always interested me, but I did not have the opportunity. But, with great changes in life (like moving to Ecuador), come great changes in perspective. Suddenly, learning the languages of the world and the cultures behind them, is very important to me, and a gift that I can give myself.

When I first moved to Cuenca, I quickly discovered that the Spanish spoken here is different from the “proper” Spanish from Spain. In the States, “proper,” or Castilian, Spanish is what everyone is taught in the classroom setting, so going out with a group of Ecuadorians my age in Cuenca, for the first time, was terrifying.

Everyone spoke faster than I could follow and the amount of slang thrown into the conversation made my head spin. Most of the group could speak English to me, of course, but when the conversation was a group effort, I was lost. As time went on and I learned more Spanish, I was able to understand more of the rapid-fire speech, and even the slang became easier to understand.

Along with the language, I had to learn new cultural and social graces that I previously had no experience with. Among my old friends back in the States, greetings have always been informal, but here (and among other Latin countries and in Europe), it is considered rude to not kiss the cheek of everyone you meet.

As my appreciation for the Spanish language and culture has grown, my interest for other parts of the world has developed as well. I couldn’t have enjoyed my first year of German language and culture more, and I can’t wait to start my last year of high school with two more foreign language classes.

Had my family and I not made the move to Cuenca, my eyes never would have been opened to my new-found love of language. I want to travel and see as much of the world as I can, and I feel that the more I know about each country, and the more I speak of each language, the better the experiences I will have. I do miss my friends back in Norfolk very much, and plan to see them again later this summer. But even though I miss them, I wouldn’t trade the past two years –or the years to come– for anything in the world.

Sometimes, our greatest interests are not discovered until a life-changing event makes us notice them.


Melina Marks

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