Archive for 2005

new language, new identity crisis?

December 8th, 2005

Today's theorem: Taking a strong interest in a foreign language inevitably leads to an identity crisis

Well, I say that knowing that my understanding of the issue has been molded by circumstance rather significantly. I remember sitting in a car on a cold winter morning, I guess I was about 5 years old and my mom was teaching me the most basic Norwegian words because I was starting kindergarden that day. The first four years of my life I spoke Polish exclusively, this was going to be my first ever encounter with Norwegian. Having ridden that bilingual wave since that day, I realize that being introduced to a new language is void of much of the drama that comes with learning a new language for the first time.

But I see it in people now, that those who want to get into a new language. It's not just about the language, it's about wanting to know the country and the culture, maybe even some history. Because once you get deep enough into a language, you start asking yourself "could I go there, could I live there some day? I wonder if I could". It's a search of something new, something very exciting. The problem is that moving to another country is never exactly like you think it will be, in fact it's rarely much like you imagine at all. And so one gets disillusioned, disappointed, feeling lonely, feeling homesick. I call that Phase Two, because it's bound to happen. Then once you see that, you have to decide whether you want to keep pursuing that "dream" or just go home instead. The reason this happens is that while you explored this new country from home, watching tv, surfing the internet, reading books (there are all kinds of ways of doing it) or what have you, you started thinking that you're becoming a part of it. Or rather, a part of you is becoming it. And that's true, by going in that direction you absorb a lot of things you otherwise wouldn't have, you also forfeit certain things from your "home". This results in a split between the two places and depending on how long you are "gone", can put you in a place where you don't feel home in either of them. For immigrant kids, this is a well known and almost trivial phenomenon, because life was always like that and you deal with it as best you can, you don't dwell on it for 20 years. Ultimately, you have to adapt somewhere, either to the new place or the old one. Of course, there is a wealth of knowledge that comes from living through this, which I firmly believe people who haven't done are very oblivious to. The identity crisis is a powerful device toward appreciating home in the first place. And by appreciating I mean making peace with it, feeling at home.

For me, it has been a rich experience, after kindergarden and three years of primary school, I was fundamentally rooted in two languages, two cultures. That's when I started English at school. That 4th grade English was completely useless, but soon after, I started an English school (run by Australian immigrants to be precise), which again was a tall order because I basically knew no English. At the starting point, I was getting C's in English all the time (they generally didn't give lower marks), then I worked myself up to a B. After two years, I started junior high school and suddenly I was far more advanced in English than the Norwegian kids. A year later, I started French as a second foreign language (which, due to my useless work ethic, never amounted to anything despite 3 years of classes). Then came high school and the International Baccalaureate. I felt very comfortable having school in English again, it's almost like I wish I always had. In college it was back to Norwegian.

And so, 20 years on, English is what I consider my first language, Norwegian is a must, while my Polish has suffered as I've used it less and less gradually, to the point that someone remarked I speak it in an English accent (how weird is that?), I have a basic understanding of French, I recognize some Italian, even less Spanish and last week I even tried to make out Portuguese, did not succeed at it. In less than two months I'm moving to the Netherlands, where I'll be taking on yet another language (to what level of ambition I have not decided for the moment).

In that time, I have both loved and hated Poland and Norway, finally I made peace with both even though I still have plenty of gripes. I've been fascinated by France (and still am to some extent), strongly attracted to the US through what can only be described as cultural imperialism, had an Italian attraction (after 5 visits it seems I've satisfied my curiosity) and now I embark upon a move abroad with a sense of excitement, but without a grand expectation toward this being my "new country" and thus I don't imagine I should be terribly disappointed in the event I don't like what I see.

Identity crisis? Yes, I've had a handful so far, somehow things seem to have stabilized, but that may not last. What's weird is that I cannot imagine what it can be like for someone to live in their home country their whole life (or say for 20 years), without ever wanting to go or going anywhere that would shake that foundation of what it feels to be home.

attendance = time of class + (possibly other factors)

December 2nd, 2005

Are you bold enough to dispute it?


December 2nd, 2005

How could we ever live without it?

you are not a great mind

November 26th, 2005

Oh how some people like to pat themselves on the back. "You know what, we should get gas before we leave, that way we can go far without thinking about refilling." "I was just thinking the same." "Great minds think alike." Classic example of where that phrase is violently abused and insults in the gravest manner people who actually have great minds. Just because you happened to have some dumb idea and someone else did too does make that one thing: a coincidence. Perhaps in some cases even less than a coincidence. Great minds think alike? Perhaps, I'm not one to dispute that but it has nothing at all to do with you and me.

If you have to use a self gratifying phrase, try "fools seldom differ". It's a bit silly but at least it doesn't offend anyone. Dismissed.

things I would do

November 23rd, 2005

...if I wasn't so damn lazy:

  • learn French
  • learn to play the piano at a decent level
  • put in a lot of work to get decent at math
  • get in shape (like I told myself I would about 10 years ago), so that I could run for 120 minutes straight while playing soccer
  • read a wide selection of literary classics
  • practice public speaking
  • get into psychology, my supposed second choice major
  • read history books

The top ones tend to be at the top of my list, otherwise the order is arbitrary.