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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

Dad’s knack of languages missed overseas

For anyone who has kept up with my study-abroad experience on social media, you may have noticed that I spend quite a bit of time outside of Freiburg. Aside from my own travel plans, my program has mandatory traveling planned out for us throughout the course of the semester, which is one of the reasons I chose this program.

Through the program, I have been to Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Strasbourg, France; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Brussels, Belgium; Paris, France; Geneva, Switzerland; Bucharest, Romania; Athens, Greece; and Budapest, Hungary. In each of these places, I’ve learned about how European Union membership has eased the transition process from communism to a market economy in Eastern and Southeastern European countries, how the European Union handles immigration and asylum seekers and how each European Union institution functions. As much as these trips have taught me, all this traveling has made me realize something that seems completely unrelated: I really miss my dad.

You may be wondering why traveling through Europe makes me miss my dad, but I promise there’s a correlation. Languages have been a huge part of my life. I’m bilingual and am proficient in Spanish. My dad has had a fascination with languages since he was in college and studied Russian and Soviet studies as an undergraduate. He learned German throughout middle and high school and moved to Poland and Taiwan where he learned each country’s mother tongue.

In his free time, my dad will try to teach himself other languages, which is why my house has always been littered with books in Dutch, Thai, Georgian, Japanese and countless others. His ability to pick up languages, dedication and self-motivation when learning new languages are things that have fascinated me and are gifts I wish I had. I can ask him questions pertaining to pronunciation and language families and, even if he’s not familiar with the certain language in question, he’s usually able to answer them.

On many of these field study trips or when I’m doing my own traveling where I’m unfamiliar with the language, I often find myself thinking, “I wish Dad were here to help me” or “I wonder if Dad knows this,” especially in Eastern European countries because I have no background in Slavic languages. Luckily, many people in the countries I’ve visited speak English very well, but whenever I encounter a sign or hear an announcement without an English translation, I tend to automatically think of my dad.

For someone with a parent who is so fascinated with languages, you would think it would have rubbed off on me. It has, to a certain degree. I tell myself I want to learn every other language in existence, but I never take any sort of initiative to do so. I don’t have the patience or dedication to sit down and learn a new language every couple of weeks, and I envy people who do. Of course, I can make the “I don’t have enough time” excuse, but it’s not really a legitimate one. My self-motivation isn’t as strong as my dad’s, but at some point in the near future, I’d like to learn French after I “master” German.

I don’t express my emotions very often, especially if it is something sentimental. But I can truthfully and shamelessly say that I’ve missed my dad — and my mom, of course — much more than I thought I would. I’ve traveled through Europe twice before with my parents and my dad has always been a great help in understanding what signs say in other languages or just to provide trivial facts about various languages we encounter. I aspire to be at least trilingual one day, and maybe I’ll reach five languages like my dad has.