learning to communicate.

For the first time in my life I have immersed myself in a place where my first language is not the primary form of communication (at least outside the other students). Since my arrival to Tanzania I have studied kiswahili vigorously, determined to connect with the non-english speaking people around me – most of whom are our staff. The first few weeks were beyond frustrating. I didn’t know many words, I got embarrassed when I couldn’t say what I wanted to, and the staff didn’t seem interested. But once they realized my efforts they immediately were invested in helping me. I learned a ton of kiswahili in a few short weeks. Since then, however, life has gotten busy and I haven’t had the time I want to put into language study. Somehow, though, I realized my communication skills have still been improving. If I haven’t been actively studying, how could that be?

I realized this morning during cook crew that I have gained an extra set of communication skills here, above and beyond kiswahili – skills in physical communication. Half my relationships with the staff are based around eye conversations, body language, touch and sound. I will spend hours with them comfortably and realize we didn’t actually talk about anything at all. I have taken to whistling, winking and gesturing to convey messages. But above and beyond that I have become hyper-aware of the body language of those around me. I have learned how to read someones feelings through their posture, requests through eye contact and whistles, jokes through winks, and above all, affection through passing touches – a handshake here, a hug there, gentle pats on the back and shoulder squeezes. Through this new form of communication I have become sensitive to the conditions and needs of the people around me. As a result, I have formed new kinds of relationships that are almost more meaningful than any words could achieve.

At home we always say “communication is key,” but maybe we should consider that sometimes more than one form of it is necessary.


3 thoughts on “learning to communicate.

  1. My senior year of high school, I was an exchange student in Taiwan. My host-grandmother and I had an amazing relationship even though she only spoke Taiwanese, a language I couldn’t understand except for perhaps 6 words. She laughed with me, we went for walks around the rice paddies with her hand linked over the crook of my elbow, her eyes would twinkle as she made fun of my poor chopsticks skills, and together we tended the small patch of fruit trees behind our house. She looked out for me as any grandmother would, and though we never exchanged a full sentence in a language we both could understand, we shared so much love! I miss her! I’m so glad you’re having these experience, Emily!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s