I started taking Spanish classes at one of the local universities here about three weeks ago. I decided it would be a good idea to help speed up my progress. I had been feeling isolated and a little frustrated in my attempts to tackle the language barrier. Some of my friends suggested it would be a good for me to be around other people who were facing the same obstacle.
I am so happy I decided to do it because I am learning a lot. Also I have met some very interesting people in my class. There’s me, the gringa, a guy from London, two Brazilians, a couple of Germans and a Jing Jing, a young woman from China.
I was very interested in Jing Jing’s story from the beginning. She has lived in San Salvador for 11 years, working in her family’s clothing business. She only started taking class 6 months ago and her Spanish is about at the same level as mine. I was shocked after living here for so long, she was fluent in Spanish. Our professor is always encouraging her to speak more Spanish outside of class. Jing Jing lives with a roommate from China and spends most of her time within the small community of Chinese people here. I suggested in class one day that she should come out with me as I am always with Spanish-speakers and I live with two young Salvadoran women.
So Friday I invited Jing Jing and Luke from London, to dinner with my roommate Lady and me. We went to a restaurant called La Ventana, owned by two Germans. Appropriate, I thought, for out multicultural group. There we were, the fours of us, from four different countries, having dinner. We definitely stood out.
It crossed my mind how funny it was that Jing Jing and I communicate by speaking a language that is neither of our native tongue.
Over her plate of bratwurst and potatoes, Jing Jing shared with me that after 11 years of living in El Salvador, she doesn’t think she’ll return to China. She came over her to work with an uncle in his clothing store for “ropa interior,” undergarments. She told me she doesn’t really miss China that much. However, she is unsure of the future of her family business here.
While I spend the majority of my time with Spanish-speakers, it is nice to be around other people who are trying to learn the language as well. It reminds me I am not the only extranjero in this country getting tongue-tied and feeling awkward in a sea of Spanish.
During our dinner I was also thinking about what a small world it really is. We can be so far apart, so different in so many ways, but yet we find ourselves sharing the same human experiences. In this small country we are learning to communicate in a new way, learning to express ourselves differently. This is something that can seem so basic, so natural. Yet right now, it is a daily effort that I do not take for granted.
I look forward to watching my classmates’ improvement, along with my own. In our class, cultures overlap in a singular aspiration, a necessity, to be understood and to understand others. This realization is especially clear in ironic moments such as Jing Jing explaining to me in Spanish how to make Chinese fried rice, while we drink our Salvadoran beers.