How Esperanto Changed My Life Posted by Chuck Smith on May 15, 2013 in Travel
I had no idea where Esperanto would take me when I started learning it in February 2001. At the time, in a small city in Pennsylvania, I thought, “I’ll do the first lesson of this free online course. If it’s lame, I’ll have lost an hour of my life. If it’s interesting, it could open up a completely new world.”
Later that year, I discovered Wikipedia in its very early stages and started the Esperanto version, which played a major role in the growth of the multi-lingual Wikipedia… for example, helping to start the Czech Wikipedia. For more details about this, you can read my blog post here: Finding the Esperanto Wikipedia (Part 1 of 4).
So, even before learning Esperanto, I was already planning to take a 1-month backpacking trip through Europe, but I found this free hospitality network called Pasporta Servo and I met Amanda Higley Schmidt who had travelled through Europe for 16 months and I thought, if she could travel alone backpacking through Europe, I definitely could too, which encouraged me to follow this dream!
On my trip, I was staying at the apartment of two board members of the World Esperanto Youth Organization, who asked if I would like to be the organization’s next volunteer in Rotterdam for a year. I took them up on that opportunity and after six months of backpacking in Brazil and Europe, I ended up working, speaking in Esperanto for a year, since it was the only language the staff had in common.
While I was there, I got accepted to a 3-week intensive French course held by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and later through an Esperanto contact helped me take part for free in a one-week intensive French course (normally costing 2700€) in the Netherlands, this time by one of the top French instructors in Europe.
When my volunteer time was up, I worked for the Calgary Esperanto Center in Canada for a few months. A while later, I was travelling to Frankfurt for the first Wikipedia conference and after I got home, I found a job offer to work as a wiki researcher in Heilbronn. Then I moved from New York City to Germany, mostly because of my reputation as the Esperanto Wikipedia Founder.
Toward the end of my work there, the Tokyo Esperanto Club asked me if I would like to come visit, all expenses paid, for ten days and give a lecture about the Esperanto Wikipedia. Would I? Oh yes! To this day, that was one of the best trips of my life. I also lectured in Esperanto at a few universities there, which professors translated into Japanese for the local students.
After I returned, my contract at the university ran out, and I got a job working at a social network in Berlin, due to meeting an investor in the company at an Esperanto New Years conference. Since then I’ve moved on to iPhone development, and now also work on the side as the Esperanto blogger for Transparent Language.
As I write this from my home in Berlin, I remember the countries I’ve visited because of Esperanto: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine. After staying in Taipei for a conference, I ended up staying with an Azerbaijani Esperanto speaker in the small city of Pingtung. The thing is, while these experiences sound incredible to people who don’t speak Esperanto, they are quite normal, but still awesome, for those who speak it well and use it to travel.
How has Esperanto changed your life? Feel free to comment below, read others’ experiences on Quora and add your experiences there.