Just like it began on Wednesday August 12, all the days of my orientation at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island has come to an end, and I now have to pack my bags and head to the American Midwest where a different and more practical challenge awaits me. But like I wished when I began, I have now discovered that having a blog would help me stay committed to finding time every day to reflect on what the day means to me, and my Fulbright program. This travelogue now mandates me to find time everyday of my trip to share what is happening to me at any given time, wherever I am on the American soil. I like that.
In teaching us about culture shock earlier in the week, we were told that there are four stages in “Culture shock” that we would most likely experience: Honeymoon stage, Despair stage, Recovery stage and the Adjustment stage. It goes without saying that I’m still at the honeymoon stage, and that a time will come, whether I like it or not, when I might be too drained to write anything or update this blog. I am prepared for that, mentally. It is another matter whether I would physically be able to beat a temperature of minus 12 to type on the keyboard with – as I can imagine it now – my real thick handgloves. But I do hope to cross the bridge only when I reach it.
What did I learn this week? One important lesson is that people are not the same across board even though we all have things that unite us. The women are an especially interesting study. While some will gladly allow you to take their pictures or take pictures with them holding their hands/side, some others are averse even to the idea of putting their photo in your camera in whatever form. Religion? Cultural upbringing? Preference? What matters at the end is the respect with which you are given the information, and the maturity with which you must accept it without malice. I have also learnt that not all familiarly looking leaf on the buffet is cabbage or lettuce. Sometimes it is a very sour vegetable that will not go down your throat no matter how you try.
I also learnt a few new words. In Hindi, I now know that to say Mera naam Kola hai is to introduce myself, while to say Tumhara naam kia hai? is to ask that of another person. My German vocabulary also swelled up by one, as I learnt in a hard way that “Tisch” means table. I have also learnt how to write NIGERIA in Chinese, and to read my name in Arabic. When I think about it, those languages are not so hard, as long as you have a willing teacher.
Now as I pack my bags right now after 2am when everyone else is asleep, let me share this with you. It is a quiz joke you must never repeat.
What do you call someone who speaks more than one language?
Answer: A multilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks only two languages?
Answer: A bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks only three languages?
Answer: A trilingual.
Now, what do you call someone who speaks only one language?
Answer: An American.
Of course that’s not true. All the Americans I’ve met here speak or are at least trying to learn another language other than English. So if you must repeat the joke, do remember my disclaimer. Next stop: St. Louis, Missouri.