Two years of “talk foreign to me” and two months of talking French while foreign

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Today marks two years since I wrote this blog’s first entry. I also wrote the “about” page that day. I just revisited both and was awestruck / deeply shocked at having done exactly what I set out to do up to this point, exactly on schedule.

Until I went to grad school, which I did not quit despite many moments of thinking I might, and where I learned and made things I once felt incapable of, I never really followed through on any of my dreams, big or small. The first one I remember extinguishing way before its time was becoming a ballerina. I took ballet lessons for three years in grade school but quit when I got impatient for toe shoes. I would have toppled right over, having barely learned a thing, but I wasn’t in it for the dancing – I was in it to wear tutus and feel pretty. Black leather ballet flats did not cut it.

I similarly harbored yet too quickly abandoned grand dreams related to ice skating, clarinet, drums, guitar, baseball, about six diaries, marine biology, anthropology, being a humanitarian aid worker, and, until two years ago – living abroad and learning another language fluently.

It took 25 years on this earth to figure out that any dream worth having doesn’t magically come true without a ton of effort (and in the case of grad school, a ton of money – that’s a pretty effective carrot on a stick).

It’s been more than 10 years since I turned myself around, but it still feels momentous any time I take responsibility for making something that I want to happen actually happen. The second anniversary of this blog feels momentous in two ways. First of all, personal writing is one of the things that I started and quit and started and quit all the time as a kid but have now managed to do consistently for nine years. That makes me pretty happy.

Much more importantly, the blog represents the commitment I made to my grandest plan: spending two years saving money and practicing French and Spanish so that by February 2016 I could move to Dakar and then somewhere in Argentina to become fluent. The idea itself had come to me not long before, during the very, very depressed week after I returned from the best vacation of my life in Argentina, to gray skies and snow-covered ground in New York. I remember getting back from the airport, dropping my bag on the floor, bursting into unexpected sobs, and wondering how I had not noticed that I was muddling through life in New York while neglecting a lifetime’s worth of (admittedly crazy) lists of all the places I wanted to live and languages I wanted to speak and jobs I wanted to do.

Other countries and languages came and went (Kenya, South Africa, Spain; Swahili, Czech, Arabic), but Senegal and French were always at the top of those lists. And now I’m in Senegal, (quasi-)speaking French, and my blog has transformed from a repository for my unhatched dreams to a witness to their unfolding.

So here’s to two years of Talk Foreign to Me and many more years of actually talking foreign.

Bookends:

Argentina, day one: February 10, 2014 (first selfie ever, in a bathroom, because I’m classy; and the endlessly fascinating Recoleta Cemetery)

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Senegal, day 60-something: April 21, 2016

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(I’m at a fancy hotel on the Corniche after having given a presentation to a bunch of intergovernmental agency comms people on storytelling through video, in English, with conversation in French – including French accents from all over West Africa and Europe. It was nail-biting, the fear that I would not understand what was being said during a discussion that I was charged with leading. But I made it through, understanding 90% of it and faking my way through the rest, and then I got to eat lunch at an ocean-side table.)

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