The Reason for My Madness, Part 3

Changing guardBelieve it or not, my memories of the 5-day whirlwind trip through Europe are really sketchy. My guess is that, because it was so much more expensive than the other places we had visited, my parents chose not to hang out too long in each place. Thanks to their network of missionary contacts, we had a free place to stay, one night per city: Florence, Lausanne, Paris — then across the English Channel to London. My sole memory of London is running into a lady we had met on the ship at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

Europe struck this 9-year-old as very old. Not surprising, given that I had only lived in the US and a modern Australian city. More importantly, I was fascinated with the fact that we could travel for just 3-4 hours by train and be in a completely different culture with a different language.

We ended our odyssey with a five-day voyage across the North Atlantic, from Southampton to New York, aboard the fabled RMS Queen Elizabeth. She was almost twice as big as the Canberra; in fact, she was the largest passenger liner ever built (until 56 years later). She was sophisticated, if showing her age, and was retired just a few years later. (I just discovered that she was initially used to transport British troops, along with the Royal Mail, during World War II before becoming a passenger liner.)

By the time we flew to Dallas from New York City five weeks after we had set out from Perth, I was a changed person. I of course wasn’t conscious of just how changed I was. But the years that ensued found me craving opportunities to study foreign languages. My parents enrolled me in an experimental summer Spanish program that same year, where I excelled. My next opportunity didn’t come until 8th grade (after we had spent an additional year in Sydney, Australia). By that time I had decided I liked French much more than Spanish, and dove into that fair tongue with no encouragement needed.

I went on to major in French, picking up some more Spanish and German along the way. In college, I had a number of friends who had grown up in Brazil as MK’s (missionary kids) and were kind enough to teach me some Portuguese. By the time I went to Brazil the summer after graduating, I was conversant. I then spent two years in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I completed a graduate degree in French, but also became conversant in Italian through self-study and conversation. Several years later, I found myself learning Dutch in the Netherlands, greatly helped by the bit of elective German I had taken in college with the best professor I ever had. Once I became proficient in Dutch, I was then able to bring my German up a few notches.

With each new language, I gained a new way of looking at the world, not to mention a passport, so to speak, to entire continents where these languages are spoken. It’s not just a matter of learning to speak differently; it’s about gaining different perspectives — a word that has taken huge importance in my vocabulary.

More about this paramount word in future posts.

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