I have a rule that I never have any expectations for anything. Due, of course, to the fact that those expectations are usually depressingly undershot by the reality that takes their place. I recently broke my own rule, and as a result, was brought back to reality faster than a skydiver returning to earth without a parachute. Splat.
My expectation of the first meeting for my study abroad trip to Costa Rica was a lengthy description of all the fun that will be had over the summer, and perhaps, if there was enough time, a brief overview of the living and eating situation. What I wasn’t expecting was in-depth coverage of how much English is spoken on the trip. Which is zero English. They don’t speak English down there. The host families don’t speak English, the locals don’t speak English, and guess what, neither do the professors. Here’s the kicker. I don’t speak Spanish. And when I say I don’t speak Spanish, I mean, yo no speako Spanish.
Perhaps I should have been ready for that. I mean, it is a trip to Costa Rica. But I didn’t fully put two and two together. It was only when all of the other students began listing off their credentials that my palms began to sweat and I had the faint sensation of my lunch making a quick return up my throat from my stomach. Everyone was either a Spanish major, a Spanish minor or was already fluent and just felt like a vacation. They were signing up for advanced linguistics in the Spanish language, Spanish history and culture, and other Spanish classes with subjects that sounded difficult had they been taught in English. Meanwhile I still need to learn how to say “I’m hungry,” which will probably have me coming home pretty skinny.
I shouldn’t be totally unprepared, for I did take a year of Spanish in high school. But that was four years ago now, and if I can’t remember the name of the teacher that taught the class, you can be sure I don’t remember any of the material either. The only thing I have retained is Yo soy Timotao, y yo soy guapo. Which should come in handy, because the first thing anyone should know when meeting me is I am Tim, and I am sexy.
The questions the other students in the meeting were asking pertained to the safety of the trip, what to do in case of illness, and food options. All valid questions, but for someone in my situation, they seemed a bit silly. How can I be worried about safety when I don’t know how to tell someone I clogged the toilet? I’d rather be stabbed than flood a house with my grande poopo. Luckily I don’t have food allergies, because not only do I not know the names of most foods, I don’t know the names of symptoms either. How do you say “my throat is closing because of that peanut you just gave me?” Mal? I suppose that would be my response, just continually saying bad, bad, bad, as I pass out on the floor. As for illness, if it strikes, I’m just going to grin and bear it, because how would anyone know to take me to a doctor when all I can tell them is I am Tim. Mucho Tim.
So why on earth would I embark on such a trip? Well, it’s this pesky foreign language requirement I need to fulfill before I can graduate next year. And since I’m horrendous at learning a language in a classroom where it is being taught in English, why not try and learn it from someone teaching it in the same language I’m trying to learn? Like trying to teach someone to hold their breath after pushing them under water. There is going to be a lot of thrashing and I might pass out.
All this is not to say that I have no experience interacting with Spanish speakers. Much to the contrary. The only thing that worries me is the vocabulary I have picked up through these casual associations with the language. For instance, on my high school baseball team in Colorado I was consistently referred to as a dumb donkey. And when I worked in a restaurant in Boston – where I enjoyed talking a lot more than working – I was often told to “Callate tu boca!” usually followed by once again being called a donkey’s rear end. While all this vocabulary is nice to have in case of an emergency, I would much prefer to know how to ask for directions than tell someone they have a small penis.
Luckily all I need is a C to get credit for the requirement. A grade which might be manageable with the help of the other students in the program who seem nice, but they haven’t gotten to know me, so you never know what they will think after spending some time with the loser. And while my lack of Spanish may become a burden on the group, it might also come in handy. Because if we’re ever in a tight spot, I could be the only one keeping my cool. I mean, it is tough to be stressed out about being mugged if you don’t understand that you’re being mugged.
After the meeting I still booked a non-refundable flight, which marks the beginning of one of the most ill-advised trips I could go on. You know that saying, “Be ready for anything?” Well, I am assuredly ready for nothing. Should be fun.
Tim Drugan-Eppich is a junior majoring in English/Journalism.
Leaving expectations behind