Lost in Translation

Author: Liz Hynes

Nobody ever tells you what it feels like.

They scratch the surface at the pre-departure meetings. They mention “culture shock,” and you think, “I know what that is,” but nothing can prepare you for the cold grip of terror that seizes your heart when you’re lost in a country in which you understand nothing. The language, the culture, the customs … all lost on you.

Imagine, if you can, the horror: making a wrong turn on your way to the first day of classes and ending up hopelessly lost amid a sea of strangers. You finally work up the courage to ask a stranger for directions (a woman with a baby, like they always told you), only to be met with cold, judging eyes and an unintelligible answer.

The words coming from her lips should have made sense, but I couldn’t process them.  Why couldn’t I understand her? Was I having a stroke?

Panicked, I mumbled a thank you and ran away to try my luck again with the next non-threatening woman with a baby I could find. But time after time, people would answer in a language I didn’t understand, and everyone started to get uncomfortable with me approaching every mother of a baby in the city. Hours drew by, and I was forced to accept my fate: I was forever lost among the senselessly laid-out streets, pining for the idiot-proof grid system of New York.

It’s been six weeks. I am writing to you from under a bridge. Every day I ask for directions home, but I can’t understand anyone’s answer. The language barrier is totally insurmountable.

Why didn’t they warn me? Why do I know so much about DuLac’s international requirements, but nothing about the language of the place I’m supposed to be studying? All I can study now is the well-worn path of the bridge over this river whose name is yet another thing I can’t pronounce.

I yearn for news of home. Who won the Iowa Caucus? Or the Super Bowl? Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow? Please write back, and send help if you can — with someone that speaks English.

Liz Hynes

Under Some Bridge

London, United Kingdom