My plans, or lack thereof

So… I’m leaving Dakar. Which I know sounds ridiculous coming just days after I posted a love letter to the city. I meant every word of it, and I’m sure I would fall even harder the longer I stayed. But sometimes you can’t be with the one you love. Continue reading

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


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.


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



Senegal, day 60-something: April 21, 2016


(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.)

español no es fácil

studying dog

Last week, I got demoted in Spanish. The teacher spoke with me after class and told me she thought I’d be better off in Level 3 than Level 4, where I was having trouble holding my own, to put it mildly. Even though I knew she was right, and had asked the Spanish coordinator to go down a level before the class even started (to which he encouraged me to stay put, give it a week, and re-assess), it stung to be called out as the one out-of-her-depth kid holding up all the others. That’s not quite how my teacher put it – but in contrast to my Spanish, my English language inference skills are excellent, and that’s exactly what she meant.

Apart from my wounded pride, though, I’m happy to have made the switch. Level 3 feels much more appropriate to my aptitude, or lack thereof. And my new teacher is from Buenos Aires, which is awesome because a. falling in love with Argentina was my inspiration for picking up Spanish again (fifteen years after falling in love with Barcelona was my inspiration for attempting to learn Spanish the first time), and b. Argentine-accented Spanish is the most amazing-sounding thing on Earth and I want to be around it as much as possible (though I will never in a million years be able to replicate it).

In completely unrelated news, here are some interesting reads that I missed the chance to post last Friday:

The moral case for eliminating borders completely 

I so wish I had gone to a dual-language public school. They are on the rise. 

Six travel apps every solo female traveler should have

Studying the Pompeians’ lives, rather than their deaths

Can you imagine flying across the Atlantic for $150 round-trip? It may soon be possible…

36 hours in Buenos Aires (though my 36 hours would be a lot different than the Times’)

Have a good week!

[Photo: Francisco Martins]