In honor of April’s Story Jam theme Lost in Translation, I interviewed RPCVs Casey Magee, Marian Palaia, and Junse Kim for the Northern California Peace Corps Association’s eNewsletter about the joys and frustrations of language and cultural exchange. Some things are universal when it comes to immersing yourself in another culture. Thanks so much to all three for the generous use of their time and thoughtful answers!
One of the best skills that comes from learning another language while fully immersed in a country is actually the huge improvement in non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication skills are all too important while traveling and bridging cultures anywhere in the world. That, and you can beat ANYONE, except another RPCV, in charades.
Immediately, perfect timing, a new guy just walks into the café and he nudges a friend, and I can hear him say in a soft voice, “So, when is he going to teach us kung fu?” Everyone turns to him and says “Just because he’s Asian doesn’t mean that he knows kung fu!”
–Junse Kim, Creative Writing Professor at San Francisco State University
The nicest surprise I got while using it in the real world came from my didi (“big sister” in Nepali; the matriarch of my host family). She was pretty much illiterate, married at 14, left school in the third grade, typical for Nepal. And yet she was the one who helped me the most with my language skills.