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Into the Linguistic Wild Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

Reaching further than your grasp can give you a handful of stardust, or it can leave you flat on your face. The risk is worth it.

Itchy Feet: Adventure's Limit

Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach.

When traveling, it’s easy to get yourself lost in the middle of backwater nowhere, on the hunt for an “authentic” travel experience. I do this all the time – part of my wanderlust comes from a desire to be out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself. I know that valuable and life-affirming experiences come from discomfort, struggle and difficulty, and that’s why travel is the perfect hobby!

Until I’m actually out of my comfort zone, that is.

Because actually, being lost or having to try new foods or struggling to communicate with shopkeepers is completely within my comfort zone. It’s the fun part of travel misadventure. But when my eyes are bigger than my stomach, so to speak, and I throw myself waayyyy out into the world, I can find myself challenged by the lack of more fundamental comforts like sleep, hygiene or even safety. That’s when I’m actually out of my comfort zone, and it’s not very comfortable. At the end, it’s always a rewarding experience to look back on, but in the moment it’s often frightening.

My eyes have also been larger than my stomach when it comes to language learning.

I love the out-of-comfort-zone experience of struggling with a new language so much that I’ve hopped on several linguistic trains without paying close attention to where they lead, and through what territory they roam. A few weeks before a trip to Japan last year I thought I’d “jumpstart” a bit of Japanese with a simple speak-and-repeat course. I soon realized I was way out of my depth, and that the language was far more complex and involved than I had given it credit for. The end result was a bit of a burn – I didn’t learn much, what I did learn was woefully inadequate for the trip, and now I’m wary of trying again. The same happened with Hebrew the year before, to the same result. Both languages have fundamental aspects that make them extremely challenging (for me, anyway), which put me so far outside my linguistic comfort zone that I was actually shocked. I was the language equivalent of Christopher McCandless, venturing into the wild without a map, food, or a survival strategy.

That said, I think I’ll still throw myself into the unknown again. I’m addicted to the feeling of getting out of my comfort zone, both physically and linguistically, and in the end I think it’ll make me a better person.

What about you? When was your last foray into the linguistic wild, and how did it go?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.

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