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How Esperanto Changed My Life Posted by 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.

Chillin' at the Esperanto Go Club in Tokyo

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.

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About the Author:Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


Comments:

  1. Mut:

    That’s really cool. Esperanto changed my life too, but probably less than yours.

    I’m from France and I learned Esperanto in 2007. In 2008 I went to my first convention (IJK) in Hungary and I was amazed too see how well Esperanto worked. Since then, I’ve been to Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia, mostly for Esperanto conventions, but not only: in 2011 I did a 3-month internship at E@I in Slovakia (my school requires students to do an internship abroad for at least 2 months). And when I was in Ukraine I met a Russian girl who became my girlfriend. I spent a month in Russia to visit her in January, and I had a great trip which allowed me to do and see things that the average tourists in a hotel doesn’t do: I’ve been invited to Russian homes, I tasted real homemade Russian dishes, I visited cities where tourists don’t go, I bathed in a frozen lake (well, I tried), etc.

    So Esperanto was much more useful to me than I expected when I learned it.

  2. benjamino:

    esperanto helpis al mi ĉesi fanfaronadi pri mi mem en la angla.

  3. Sergey:

    I’m a beginner, but after my first Esperanto meeting (Aroma Jalto) in Ukraine, I got a friends from Poland, Russia and Germany I started feeling, that I won’t give it up, and a lot of interesting journeys wait for me.

  4. Tim Owen:

    Lovely article, Chuck. My life too has been similarly coloured, not least because I met the girl I’m marrying through it. We’ve been to many places to which we likely wouldn’t have ventured and have been fortunate to meet good people with whom we’ve become real-life, outside-Esperanto friends.

    I haven’t had the opportunity to work all over the place as you have, but my involvement in aspects of Esperanto pushed me into learning web design and whatnot too, which I greatly enjoy and might never have tried otherwise.

  5. Carlos:

    Saluton,

    Plaĉis al mi legi vian spertojn per Esperanto, Chuck. Mi komencis lerni la neŭtralan lingvon ekde la lasta jaro (2012), do mi ankoraŭ preskaŭ ne spertis personajn kontaktojn kun aliaj samideanoj. Mi esperas ĝui tion baldaŭ. Dum tio ne okazos, mi nur lernas kaj laboras por disvastigi Esperanton. =)

    Gratulojn. Ĝis.

  6. Leslie:

    Great article! I felt like I was reading my own language learning story. Often, people don’t understand that learning a language is so much more than just learning the rules or the language itself. It’s about the the people you meet and the experiences we have along the way.

    In high school and college, I struggled with Spanish. I almost didn’t even go to college because I did not have a foreign language in high school. When I finally did get into college and take my first language course, I still hated it and vowed to never step foot in a language classroom again.

    A few months after graduating from college, I went on a three month back packing trip to Europe and Africa. It was then that I was bitten by the language bug. I returned to the states, enrolled in a night Spanish class at the University of Georgia (I was selling tile at a tile house in Athens, GA), and began my mission to conquer my nemesis. Eighteen years later, I have two MA degrees (one in French and one in Spanish); I have traveled and studied in a different country almost every summer; I teach Spanish full-time at a community college; and five years ago, I started a Spanish and French language school for children in my community.

    My life would be completely different without languages. I’ve met so many people who have changed my life and shaped me into the person I am today. I still have contact with former high school students who I taught and are now Spanish teachers themselves. I could go on and on, but I won’t 😉

    Great article, Chuck!

  7. agostinha da costa:

    mi satas lerno esperanto…..ankau mia amiko/amika illias lernas esperanto. i want to leartn esperanto but who want to show me the way to learn this is a new language for me in Timor Leste.

  8. @DonaldKronos:

    How does one go about starting a new language Wikipedia? I have wanted for some time to start one in the Esper’ dialect of Esperanto, which is also the primary dialect of the Esper’ language, using Esper’ orthography and its regularized Esperanto grammar… but I have found the Wikipedia community to be quite unfriendly and unhelpful. Please contact me on Twitter or Google Plus @DonaldKronos if possible, if you have an answer, because I don’t know if I would see an answer posted here.