Of all the barriers I could have expected from this study abroad experience, language was not at the top of my list. I think lots of people asked me about it, but for some reason I just didn’t put too much weight on it. Even throughout the first week or so, I didn’t really see language as a huge separating factor. My new friends, my host family, and all my instructors spoke perfect English. I consider myself someone who values knowing other languages, but I was taking Hindi. With everything else going on, I thought that just going over flashcards and participating in class was plenty of effort on my part. I don’t regret not pouring myself into more Hindi exposure and I don’t think anyone would have encouraged me to do so. However, after giving myself the space to adjust, I began to gain a new perspective on language.
We were at a Pakistani refugee community in the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur when I first smacked into the barrier. I was sitting in a group of brave women and children who had risked everything to more freely practice their faith. I wanted to affirm them with the poetic voice inside of me and listen fully to their struggles and hardships. I wanted to find my role in their struggle and pour my love into their lives. However well-intended I was, I soon realized that by going into a community expecting to be able to contribute often takes the focus away from those suffering. As Bob Goff often says, “It’s not about you.” I have read all his books, I have preached to my fellow classmates on the importance of sustainable aid, and I have written essays on the “White Savior” complex. However, when language is taken away, I was left undeniably knowing I could not say or do anything for these people besides listen attentively to their voice, gestures, and the translator helping us to communicate.
This experience helped me to realize how big and bold the language barrier was. In the future, I hope I am the kind of person who always works hard enough to start to move over it. However, I think there is so much to learn when two people stand on either side of the barrier but still try to communicate. There is a language without words that says more than any speech ever could. I see it when my host mom gives me a warm nod when my super-fast blabbering is hard to understand and when I spend five minutes laughing with a woman that speaks an entirely different dialect than I anything I have ever heard. I believe this language is the love language that is more connecting than separating.
For the final month of my study abroad experience, I will be completing an internship at Kiran Society in Varanasi, India. Kiran means “ray of light” in Hindi and it serves to be just that for children of different abilities and of marginalized communities in the area. Through targeted educational plans and communal empowerment, they uplift children and those around them to a new point of togetherness and encouragement. I arrived two days ago, and I am filled with awe at the smiles, work, and growth of the children that prove this mission to be undeniably true. However, here I will encounter more language barriers than at any other time in my life before. Without the women I met in at the Pakistani refugee community, my host mom, and the many other people who I have clumsily walked through Hindi with, I would not be open to the value of this opportunity. I don’t want language barriers to ever prevent me from making new friends, loving new people, or learning new things. Here is to the next few weeks of diving into the love language, I will let you know what I find.