11 years back a girl boarded her maiden international flight to a land that fate had reserved for her. 23 years spent amidst her family, loved ones, friends, a known culture, and a habituated language. And suddenly it dawns upon her as she sets foot offshore, she is away, miles away from them. Though a familiar face, a being to call her own, a relation that weaved bonds and family with her that she can call her “OWN” greeted her with a big grin on the arrival but many journeys were awaiting her on the other side of the airport door.
Going on a nostalgia trip it’s my story. October 2009, I was really nervous and excited at the same time. As the flight hit the runway butterflies started churning in. Long stretches of treading belts running tirelessly leading to the immigration counters that had a huge crowd waiting. Wait!! I passed the same process in India too, but why nervous now? I was in a familiar environment there, here I am a stranger, a newcomer, and alone.
As the new phase of my life rolled I had so much on my plate to explore and get habituated to. The weather, to begin with, had a tone of melancholy to it, raining literally any time of the year, no sun for days together, and quiet neighborhoods especially on Sundays which means everything shut. And with my husband coming back home at 4 am in the morning the next day (every alternate day) thanks to the work burden he had then I was on my own, all alone in a foreign land. With no social networking, no social circle of my own I started feeling homesick soon.
Of all the things that seemed troublesome in the beginning, Language was the main barrier. French and Dutch are two main official languages here in Belgium. No amount of lonely walks, grocery shopping can equate to the pleasure of having a social interaction with ease. My husband being my predecessor have acquired a few French words and asked me to use them in my next outings. And I was dumb enough to not to tweak the phrases before using them.
“Vous Parlez Anglais?” (Do you speak English?) Was supposed to be my question whenever I had to start a conversation (fortunately the capital region, Brussels due to its economical, political and diplomatic operations and being the host of European Union Commission office have a considerable chunk of the population (mainly the young demographic portion) who can speak English. But I confused “Vous” with “Je” which means “I” and instead of using a “?”mark I continued with a full stop. People who understood my situation would shift to English automatically but those who didn’t would state at me and equally confused as I was. And my pronunciation of typical French nouns (words) was the icing on the cake, cake to be thrown out of the window 😂. A petty example – Champs Elysees; correct pronunciation – Shon-Zay-LEE-zay and how I pronounced it – Cha-m-ps El-I-zees. Does it ring anything? Actress Kangna Ranaut in the movie Queen. I have many such bloopers
Things didn’t seem hunky-dory at all. I had to take a decision and make a move. That’s when I got enrolled myself in French classes. After a few classes, I realised it’s important to talk, for that’s the only way to practice the vocabulary acquired in the class. Now I started to commence my conversation in French wherever I go, no matter how slow, struggling and wrong. But what important is to try.
This step that had a shaky beginning had good returns. People of any country love to see foreigners making an effort to learn their language as an attempt to integrate with them. If they believe so they are more forthcoming and warm. I experienced the same. It doesn’t matter if drop or switch to English in the middle of the conversations (if only understood by the other party), still had fruitful conversations leaving a smile.
I had to quit my French classes after two levels of beginners due to family issues but now I am confident of surviving in the environment devoid of known English completely (some Google translation won’t hurt that much 😁). My two aged neighbors are all French on either side of my house. And I talk to them in the language they are comfortable with. I handle all the school routine work of my kids including the PTAs and other petty matters. After 11 years I have embraced Brussels and feel the same about being accepted here (not going to switch my passport though 😁).
In the nutshell, it’s all about the first step you take to bridge the distances. In my case, it was taking up French classes. I am not perfect in that language yet I am enjoying my life in a then foreign land now my home❤❤ . Fear of being alone and left out, adamancy, and stupidity of superiority/inferiority are strong shackles bondage-ing people keeping them apart. A step no matter how feeble needs to be take to show the intent. I am happy I have made my stride with that First Step!!!