The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Same But Different

Image Credit: WikiCommons

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At International Student Centers all around the world, there is a much cited diagram called the ‘Cultural Adaptation Curve.’ Basically, like a new relationship, you fall in love, you enter crisis as you discover the other person isn’t perfect, and then you adjust. Yeah sure, I thought as I rolled my eyes. I think I’ll be okay leaving Australian to live in a country renowned for pizza, and learning about US literary culture along the way. What could go wrong?

When arriving in the land of the free, the first thing to make me nervous was not the much politicized gun violence or the thought of witnessing Fox News, but my own voice. I had prepared for the challenges of living and studying in a new country (navigating new supermarkets, driving on the wrong side of the road) but I never thought that I would struggle with my own words. English is my first language, so it didn’t occur to me that there would be language barriers.

“Excuse me, what stop is Walmart?” I ask the bus driver.

“I’ve never heard of that” he responds quizzically, his eyes remaining ahead on the road.

“The big store? You know… WAL-MART?”

“Ohh you mean War-l-mart.”

It was hard enough adjusting to a store that was bigger than any supermarket I’d been to before, let alone learning I was pronouncing it wrong. I was incredulous that in a single place you can buy chips, pillows and guns. I’d never seen a gun available for purchase before and Walmart sells them in a variety of colors like pink.

I began to resent my long Australian ‘ahhhs’ (as in ‘caaahrs’) announcing my foreignness at every turn. I wanted to fit in, arrive at Walmart in peace and pursue capitalism like any normal American. I hoped I wasn’t called on in class and dreaded opening my mouth, not sure people could understand me or if my drawl was just too humiliating. In short, I was a slack jawed hick in a shiny new city.

Desperate to feel normal, I fled to my headphones, which I filled with the quintessentially Australian Courtney Barnett. I spread vegemite on my toast before I rushed off to class, wondering whether eating a salty yeast spread was really the best way to connect with my roots. I’d never before identified with being Australian. I stay at home on Australia Day, avoiding crowds of drunken patriots. I classify myself as ‘Greek Australian’ with an emphasis on the Greek. It felt dizzying to be away from an identity that I never had acknowledged.

As the weeks disconcertingly rushed past, the words lost their power. The anxiety lifted as I began to focus on what I was saying, not how I was saying it. My opinion on Young Goodman Brown’ seemed to matter more than how I pronounced Hawthorne (Haaaawthawn). Words didn’t stick as much in my mouth and I didn’t lock my jaw as tightly.

After the second month passed, I spent a weekend in Seattle and consequently, a good few hours milling about at a bus station. I sprawled on the metal chairs, feet on my backpack and book in hand trying to block out the sound of the TV.

“Aww this is Naked and Afraid. Have you guys seen this?”

I sit up straight in my seat. What is that? Where is she from? South Africa? I look to my travelling partner and he sees my expression of dumbfoundedness.

“Australian,” he says to me.

“It’s horrible,” I reply, “Do we really sound that bad?”

By: Katerina Bryant

Bridging the Immigration Culture Gap with Language

 

Market

Image Credit: WikiCommons

My sophomore year of high school I traveled to Mexico for a fifteen day trip. I had one year of Spanish under my belt, and on the way I felt like I could already speak the language.

“Hola ¿Cómo se llama?” said a stranger with a friendly smile and an outreached hand. And then, with a still friendly, but slightly impatient look: “¿Cuál es su nombre?”

I could only stare blankly. Hombre? Was that man or hungry? No…wait, that’s hambre.

With a more impatient expression this time, he asked, “Hi, what is your name?”

I was flooded with relief at the sound of English. For the rest of the trip I couldn’t even bring myself to try to speak in Spanish to anyone. Surrounded by Spanish posted in street advertisements, scrawled across the sides of buildings, and thrown between the shops of the open air market, I couldn’t escape my insecurity in the language.

Navajoa

Image Credit: WikiCommons

Putting aside the comforts of familiarity and home, I had wanted to understand the people of the small unfamiliar Mexican village we stayed at.

This feeling however, of being the stranger, unable to speak in the way I wanted to, was a better insight into the lives of hispanic immigrants and their children in the United States. In the social systems of the United States, speaking English, especially with the general American english accent, is considered a privilege.

This fall, after four more years of Spanish studies, I listened to hispanic staff at Pacific University as they went about their days. These friends and coworkers, speaking to each other in Spanish, conversing and sharing stories, I realized I wanted to be a person that meets people in their culture, their perspective, and with their language–if possible– to hear the stories that make them who they are.

Gloria Anzaldúa, one of the foremost scholars on feminism and chicana culture,   discusses the process of her language being taken away from her in her writing, “Cómo domar una lengua salvaje.” In U.S. schools she was punished for speaking Spanish or put down for speaking English like a Mexican. For many chicana people, Spanish may not even be a relief or safe haven.

Anzaldua

Image Credit: K. Kendall Flickr

A few weeks ago I finally challenged myself to speak Spanish out of my comfort zone. All I needed was a simple, “I’m doing well, thank you. Y, ¿Cómo está usted?” in response to a greeting to find out more about the people living around me as they are. I recognized the feeling of excitement and relief of hearing one’s fluent language on the faces of the people before me. A few words opened an important door.

For me, Silk Road is a place where we meet to share our stories and learn about international perspectives. When the fall 2015 staff first met, we read over the Asia issue, describing what we liked about the entries. Those pieces exemplified Silk Road: relevant, interesting, diverse, well-crafted, a new perspective, cultural. The most effective submissions, and published pieces, are those that share a new story, bring a new and rich setting to the forefront, and come from the heart of a culture. Silk Road is the opportunity to give voice to the displaced and hear about the lives that make up an international culture.

By: Karissa Mathae