Monday, January 5, 2009

A Stranger In A Strange Land

In 1987 I satisfied my one remaining foreign language requirement in college by studying Spanish in Spain. I was to stay with a Spanish family and would study with others at a language institute in Madrid. After a two-week tour of Spain, we arrived in Madrid. My
roommate and I were given enough money for taxi fare and a piece of paper that had on it the address of the apartment where we would be living for the next several weeks. We got in the taxi and could only point to the address on the paper to indicate where we wanted to go. When we arrived, we walked up a few flights of stairs and knocked on the door of our host family. They were very friendly and invited us in. The only difficulty was that my roommate and I spoke very little Spanish and our host family spoke even less English. We were going to have to learn the language in order to get by.

Every day we walked from our apartment several blocks to the school where we studied. We entered class the first day only to learn that our instructor spoke NO English. This was going to be a bigger challenge than we imagined. Our classes were in Spanish, we had textbooks in Spanish, and we lived with families that only spoke Spanish. Every time we went to eat or to
purchase anything, we encountered the same difficulty of not being sure if we were communicating well enough to get what we needed or wanted, but we also had a concern about the exchange rate of every transaction to make sure we knew how much we were paying. After struggling day after day to get around the city, my roommate and I would sit in our room in the evening and talk about our day – in English. Those moments were so nice. I did not have to work to find the right words or worry about being misunderstood. Communicating was easy and it just flowed. It was an odd oasis that would usually not last very long because our “mother” would knock on the door and in a stern voice say, “No ingles,EspaƱol olamente” (No English, Spanish only).

By the time I left Spain, I could speak enough Spanish to get around and carry on some rudimentary conversations. Much of the Spanish spoken around me was still lost on me and every conversation required effort on my part. I learned a lot about Spanish culture and appreciated a different pace of life, but I often felt lonely because I could not just connect wih someone who spoke my native language. Getting to speak my native language was a breath of fresh air in every day.

At PCCT, our new initiative to reach those in the Nashville area for whom Spanish is their primary language is an attempt to provide that breath of fresh air. Eduardo Lelli, our Spanish-speaking therapist, understands the challenges not only in language, but other challenges to adapting to a new culture. While not every Spanish-speaking client will come from the same culture or speak the same dialect of Spanish, Eduardo is providing a service that hopefully allows someone who must struggle with words and other communication to have a place to relax and breathe a bit while trying to work on the very human challenges of emotional, relational, and spiritual health. It is myhope and prayer that PCCT is always a place like that for all who seek our services.

My experiences in Spain and the experiences of our clients at the Pastoral Couneling Centers is why I am bosting this in opposition to the "English Only" proposal in Nashville. Please vote against this proposal. Early voting is open now.