The Truth About Living Abroad : 5 Things You Didn’t Expect

16 Aug

I often get strange comments from people back home, who apparently think that living abroad equates to being on a perma-vacation. A friend of mine once asked how I was liking Buenos Aires and I started ranting about the rain, and being poked by umbrellas in over-crowed and humid subway cars and my brand-new rainboots that leaked everytime I stepped in one of those toxic-looking city puddles….and the response “WOW! That sounds so amazing!” Mind you, this friend of mine is a very positive person, but honestly, living abroad doesn’t automatically make your life an enchanting fairy-tale. In fact, it can be a down-right pain-in-the-ass, and only the very brave (or very stupid) should embark on this journey.

I’ve compiled a list of 5 things you may not have known about living abroad, and that you might want to take into consideration before making any plans. I’ll be highlighting one each week, please feel free to comment if you have your own ideas!

Number 1: Loss of language

The Culprit

Many people these days are moving abroad in order to have that “total immersion experience” in a foreign language. I can vouch for the fact that living in a foreign country will speed up the process of mastering foreign language X, and will also allow you to speak more naturally and avoid sounding like you’ve learned everything from a text book.

But what those Study Abroad brochures don’t tell you is that you will probably, very likely, lose your native language. Not all of it silly, but after a good, solid invasion on foreign language X, you’ll notice that certain words just stop showing up when you need them. You might even start speaking incorrectly, using strange grammatical structures or translating phrases from your new language. My mom always makes fun of me when I say “You have to profit from the fact that you’re on vacation!” In my mind, “profit” has come to mean “take advantage of.”

The first time I noticed that I was losing my English was a cold, autumn night in Soissons, France. I was walking down a dark, cobble-stoned alley with a fellow American friend and we were discussing, for some reason, facial hair. I turned to my friend and said, “I really don’t mind facial hair too much, but I can’t stand a dirty moustache.” When I said the word “moustache”, I knew something was wrong….it came out sounding like a cow : moooo-stache. I stopped and grabbed my friend’s arm: “What did I just say? How do you pronounce that word? Is it maw-stasshe, moo-stach, muh-stach-e??”

Every combination of vowels we tried sounded foreign and misplaced. We calmed down a bit, “Ok, let’s try this again – we’ll say it very naturally, as if we were in the US and never had spoke a word a French.”

“So, what do you think about moo-stasshh-ezz?”

“I can appreciate a nicely-kempt muh-sta-ch-uh…”

We looked at each other knowingly…this would be the first in a long line of linguistic mishaps.

6 Responses to “The Truth About Living Abroad : 5 Things You Didn’t Expect”

  1. Katie August 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Yes, very true! I heard a fellow translator refer to this phenomenon as “linguistic atrophy” the other day. I’m glad I’m heading to the U.S. for a visit in a few months because I think I need to brush up on my English. hahaha

    • kvolman August 16, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

      Good to know there’s a name for my disease 🙂 I thought I was alone in this!

      • Alex McDaniel August 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

        I live in the United States and I have also had this problem. All of a sudden a random word I say or write sounds foreign. The latest one was “clutter”. I knew it was a word but it sounded so strange. This happens all the time to me. I have been to the doctors for this disease and regret to inform you that there is no cure. We may have a “Linguisti-Demic” on our hands.

  2. Pamela Foye August 22, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    I was reading your post on 5 things to go on a week-end in Buenos Aires and noticed you had a “loss of language” when you wrote… well see if you can find it yourself. Or maybe it was just an error, if so than I apologize for pointing it out. I love reading your posts by the way.

    • kvolman August 23, 2011 at 1:15 am #

      Thank you for being supporting in your own strange little way Mom 🙂 Was it the opposing comment?


  1. The Truth About Living Abroad : 5 Things You Didn’t Expect, Part 2 « Live, cook and eat abroad - September 12, 2011

    […] a previous post of The Truth About Living Abroad : 5 Things You Didn’t Expect, I discussed the dangers of losing your maternal language. In fact, there’s much more at […]

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