Yesterday I had my first experience of an exchange related headache.
The definition of an exchange related headache? Listening to another language for an extended period of time, concentrating so hard to understand, you end up with a headache.
I suppose my time wasn't extended - only 2 hours, but it was enough to get my head throbbing, as I tried so hard to understand the excited, fast-spoken South American at the Spanish church I attended yesterday.
I have decided that, as a Christian, when I go over to Spain, I want to be connected to a church, and experience life as a Christian in another culture. I also wanted to experience a Spanish church in my own country as well, which had me looking up Spanish church services. This one was in Merrylands, and was so much fun. I got a little lost on my way there (thanks Google Maps!) and finally decided to take the logical route, getting me there a little after 9. I rocked up at the front door, to hear people singing in Spanish, and I was overcome with a great sense of joy, knowing that next year, I will be immersed in this beautiful language. The 'welcomer' welcomed me, and looking me up and down, knowing I wasn't Spanish, asked if I knew that it was a Spanish service, and if I spoke Spanish. I said that I was learning, and he showed me inside and I joined in singing songs to God in Spanish.
I think some of my favourite memories of travelling overseas have been where I have been connected to a culture through our shared faith. When I was in Tonga, on a 2 week exchange with my school, I felt a great connection to the people, and the way they viewed life. I loved going to their 2 hour+ church services, where I had no idea what they were talking about, because it was such an amazing experience, where I realised that language barriers do not stop people from connecting. When I was in Hong Kong, on another 2 week exchange with my school, we attended a church where we sung a well-known song in English, them in Cantonese. To be unified through songs of worship, the barrier that stops a large amount of communicating seems to fade away, and we are united in our shared faith. I think that that experience is something out of this world, and amazing, and I think everyone should have the opportunity to experience it.
But to experience singing in Spanish, understanding the words... that was just... amazing.
I pretty much had no idea about what the pastor spoke about - by the end of the service, I understood the main points he was talking about, but not in detail. But my head was bursting with concentration! After church had finished, the 'welcomer' came and chatted with me, and got me a coffee, and I walked around looking at the church and the different people, a cacophony of Spanish mixed with English assailing my senses. I saw what I think was a father and daughter, and we asked the normal, "¿Como estas? ¿Como te llamas?" etc... and we spoke for a couple of minutes just asking general questions. They finally moved on to English, asking if I spoke English, and I was like, "Yes!!! Yes I do! My brain hurts!" And they were quite surprised that I wasn't a Spanish speaker - they said my accent was great, which made me feel great. I also got to talk to the pastor, and he said that he had lots of contacts in Spain, and would easily be able to connect me with a church.
I felt like I had experienced my first taste of what Spain will be like - 2 short hours, and my head was ready to burst... Imagine a whole day, week, year. It's crazy, but at the same time, exhilerating and exciting to think of the challenges I will have next year. Whenever I get nervous or feel ridiculously underprepared, I always think to the end product. I will be able to speak another language fluently!
I think that learning a second language is so incredibly important in our lives, as it removes prejudice from our lives, and allows us to connect with other cultures. Learning another language removes our ignorance of other cultures, and other people not of our own race. Learning another language allows a deeper insight and appreciation of other cultures that we would not have had to the same degree if we had not learnt the language of the culture. Learning another language is extremely important for people today, in a world so full of segregation, discrimination and racism. Language is really important for removing prejudice and ignorance because diversity and differences should be seen as assets to be valued, and not the basis of discrimination. By understanding another language we are able to connect with other people outside our own culture and go beyond language barriers to create a community across nations and the world. Learning Spanish is great as it is spoken by such a large number of people, across a diverse number of countries. Having this ability to speak to someone across the world, from another socio-economic status and culture is an extremely rewarding one, which would not be as possible without the ability to speak another language.
I encourage anyone out there that actually does read this blog (If there is anyone that does leave me comments!! :P) to think about exchange, and about all the rewarding aspects of it. If you are worried about language, and how you aren't naturally a language person, I would suggest that you still look at different peoples blogs, and know that you can go on exchange to same language countries (in my case English- the US, Canada, the UK etc...).
These past few days, I have been incredibly blessed with a passion for exchange, language and an excitiment that cannot be rivaled. It shocks me that I leave in only two short months, but I really do feel like everything is happening. I have handed in my VISA application ($400 later!), am officially not a criminal ($200 for a criminal record history check??), and am hopefully on my way to finding out my host family.
I love exchange, and all the experiences it brings me. Someone once told me that exchange really takes 3 years: 1 to prepare (2009), 1 to actually go on exchange (2010), and one to evaluate and go through home culture shock (2011). And I've realised that it is so true - exchange does take 3 years, and I'm experiencing my first year right now. I cannot wait for the actual journey to begin, and for you to be a part of it with me, through this blog.