I’m living a contradictory life – I’m a Communications professional lacking communication skills. This is pathetic. An interesting phenomenon happens when you live abroad: you don’t really learn the foreign language as it’s spoken and, at the same time, you start to forget some vocabulary and misspell words in your native language. So, I’m at this point in which the brain start to work both in Portuguese and in English, but mixing words, which is REALLY weird. When I want to say something it’s all messed up in my head, like a computer with some sort of configuration problem.
In addition to that, it’s too much information. Almost everyone has everyday – or has already had at some point – the feeling of being bombed with information coming from everywhere and being unable to digest it and absorb it. It’s the cab driver’s radio (that you don’t want to listen), the advertising posters and signs around the city (that you didn’t ask for), the Web, the TV and its overwhelming options, printed newspapers and magazines, and so on.
But I’ve settled with the fact that it’s impossible to be aware of everything. In the U.S., I learned to deal with the feeling of struggling to catch up with. Imagine you’re in a maze, like Pac-Man, where native speakers are those hungry, smiling faces consuming information pills frantically and quickly finding the exit to another level, and foreigners are ghosts lagging behind. Double effort is necessary in order to achieve 60%, or 70% of what you’re able to produce in your comfort zone, or culture and language. I mean, instead of going through the maze experience naturally and coming out of it excited about the bunch of interesting information you’ve consumed along the way, the foreigner may struggle through his/her experience and come out of it physically and emotionally exhausted.
And it’s not only about the amount of effort/energy that you have to put on something and the quality of the outcome, but also about what you’re able to take away from your experiences. In school, foreigners don’t get it all, but get the most of it in class; you can always catch up with classes by studying on your own, but it will happen “later” – I mean, sometimes there’s no real-time understanding of things. For instance, when watching a movie, you don’t get all the jokes; if someone explains you the joke, you’ll laugh, but five minutes after everybody did. It’s like having a brain in delay.
Am I being too dramatic? OK, ghosts in a maze may be an extreme metaphor because, in fact, foreigners are not invisible neither totally lost; we’re just not completely aware of the context. We’re surrounded by a culture that is not ours, and we lack references in order to fully understand what’s going on. This feeling of being apart comes with a sense of not belonging, like “I’m physically here, but not entirely here”; I’m more of an observer than a participant.
The interesting thing, though, is that this life here doesn’t really seem to be my real life. It’s like if I were playing someone else – the ghost, in Pac-Man (sorry, but I like the metaphor) – because the way I behave (and, therefore, the way I’m perceived) in another language is different from the way I am. But, one day, the game will be over, and I will go back to my real life – the ghost will reincarnate. The positive side of this game is the fact that all I can get out of it – even if I can’t get it all – is extra credit, or a different perspective that will add to my real life.