“Wow, she’s picking up the language really quickly…no, she has just gotten really good at Charades.”
Well, I think we all knew that I wasn’t going to be very good at posting frequently, but now it’s time to get back on track. In my defense, I’ve been dealing with a sinus infection for the past three weeks and I’ve been rather worthless in my freetime, mainly resting to try to get healthy again. I’m back now, and feeling like new, thank goodness for penicillin and the really caring people I’m surrounded by here at Fortuna. Oh who am I kidding, it still would have taken this long.
In my last post I discussed the first aspect of the language barrier: the language gap within the game. Now I’m going to talk a little bit about the language barrier socially within the team and club.
Your first social activity may go something like this:
First, you find the other foreigners, if there are any, and you stay near them, and hope they also speak English. Everyone is talking and if you don’t know the language or haven’t been around it, it’s kind of like hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher at a dull roar throughout the night. People will speak to you in English, but it may just be asking direct questions to you, which is really nice, and much appreciated, but it’s still not the same thing as being included in a conversation. You can always repeatedly ask: What are you all talking about? What did she say? Why did she say my name and then everyone start laughing? Hopefully there is a person on your team who can recognize your blank stare when you look in their direction and then they automatically know to fill you in, without you having to ask…keep them around. Another option is just to laugh when everyone else is laughing, because, well, laughter is good for the soul, even if you’re laughing at people laughing and don’t actually know why they are laughing. This can become problematic because then people start to think they don’t need to translate because you’ve got it figured out on your own. You can also have your friend Maiju, who also doesn’t actually know what people are saying, give you her interpretation of the conversation. While you may not hear what people are truly discussing, it usually ends up in a hilarious, slightly inappropriate story that you can laugh about years later. All kidding aside, you often feel left out, which means you either, turn to your cell phone, which keeps you connected to other people, helps you stay caught up on your pinteresting, and possibly sends a negative signal about your want to get to know those who are physically around, or you choose not to participate in group activities because if you’re going to feel lonely, then you might as well actually be alone while you’re at it.
Playing abroad can be a really lonely experience, it doesn’t have to be, but it can be. I’m the the kind of person who always has my door open and welcomes friends at any time, and I’m being serious, ANY TIME; you can ask them. Not everyone is this way, some people are fine being by themselves or mainly talking to people from home in their free time, and that’s okay too. But I like being around people and getting to know new people. I would say it has been pretty easy since I’ve had some really awesome, fun people in my life. But even with these really awesome people, I can say it has taken much more time to connect with people while abroad than when at home. My Finnish friend Maiju, from my last blog post, told me after about a year of knowing each other that she thought I was actually a pretty funny person. We hadn’t made much of an attempt to really get to know one another in the beginning, so we didn’t realize early on that we would be such good friends. It also took close to the end of a full season with my old team for teammates to start dropping by as often as they did the second or third season. For me, the first couple of months in a new place can be lonely because it takes a little time for me to come out of my shell and let myself be known. To get to know others, you have to let them know you, and that can be hard sometimes, especially if you’re not sure they really care to know your story. I mean how many people want to hear all about my dog Boo…hopefully everyone, because she’s awesome.
You also can’t be afraid to ask questions, any and all questions. Even if someone isn’t so comfortable with English, with enough effort, I’m sure you can figure out what their reply is, and that could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Most of all, you have to take the responsibility. If you’re happiest hanging out with people, then ask your new teammates to hangout, have dinner, enjoy a movie, or maybe even build an igloo, or at least make plans to build an igloo (we were in Finland, so why not?). If you have people around you who are willing to build an igloo, then I think you should get to know them because they seem pretty cool. Just don’t sit sad and lonely by yourself because no one invited you out if you haven’t tried getting something together yourself.
Hopefully you can get to know your coaches and different members of the club and community and that you can feel a strong support system around you. For me, this social aspect is important because I believe the happier I am outside of the game, the better I can be within the game. I also think that a team with strong connections outside of the game can be even stronger on the field. Your teammates have to know that you want the best for them because that makes the team better, and sometimes that can be hard to see when you’re competing with each other everyday, and only interacting at training. Getting to know and understand each other on a personal level can build an incredible bond, which helps on the field, enriches your everyday life, and may bring you lifelong friendships.
After all that hard work of getting comfortable in a sort of home away from home, it’s the end of the season, and there is a very good possibility that you or some of your teammates will be changing teams. This means you get to do it all over again. It makes you ask yourself if it’s worth it, getting to know people who you know you won’t be around for very long….for me, of course it is. If it’s hard to say goodbye then you know you’ve made the time together worthwhile and your life is all the more fulfilling for having the experience of knowing these people. Also, I have so many more places to visit now and that’s always a plus.