Category Archives: Travels

Visiting Maramureş: The Merry Cemetery

Before I even came to Romania, I was looking forward to visiting the Merry Cemetery. Tina told me about it and I got so excited! She just didn’t know exactly where it was, so I didn’t either.

While we were in Maramureş, we had the opportunity to go the Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa, which was my favorite part of the trip! I was looking forward to it because Tina had told me that it was a cemetery where the tombstones had pictures of how the person had died, and also that it was colorful and beautiful. I was definitely not disappointed.

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I have learned that Romanians tend to be very religious. Our tour guide told us that “if the priest asks people to give money to the church, they give more than he asks for. But then they are asked to give money to fix the roads, and nobody gives anything.”

The Merry Cemetery has blue tombstones, symbolic of heaven and hell both being in the sky, which is blue. The blue color of the tombstones characterizes the religious devotion of most Romanians.

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 The colorful atmosphere of the Merry Cemetery strays from the traditional view of death as something solemn. Instead, it views death as something to be welcome, leading you to another life.

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While in Maramureş, I noticed that intricate and detailed woodwork is very popular, and I also had the opportunity to visit Teodor, a local woodcarver. The tombstones here are made of wood, and each of them has a picture of the deceased at the top.

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If the person died in an accident, then the picture is of how they died.

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If they didn’t die due to an accident, then a major event of their life, or their occupation, is depicted.

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This is the tombstone of the man that started the Merry Cemetery:

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The tombstone is carved by a wood carver that lives in the village (similar to Teodor, whom we met) that the deceased is from.

At the bottom of the long with an epitaph that is either humorous or informative of the person’s life. The family does not choose what is put in the epitaph – that is the wood carver’s decision. The tight-knit culture of the small villages in this area is displayed in the fact that the family never objects to what the local wood carver writes on the tombstones. Everyone in the village knows one another, and they know that what it says is true.

And this one is right next to the creator’s. It is his mother-in-law. This is an example of the humorous epitaphs:

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Romanian:
Sub aceasta cruce grea
Zace biata soacra-mea
Trei zile de mai traia
Zaceam eu si cetea ea.
Voi care treceti pa aici
Incercati sa n-o treziti
Ca acasa daca vine
Iarai cu gura pa mine
Da asa eu m-oi purta
Ca-napoi n-a inturna
Stai aicea draga soacra-mea
English:
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days she would have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause’ if she comes back home
She’ll criticise me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!

 

Here is my one of my favorites – a teacher!

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The church was under construction.

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There was a service going on inside, so we stepped inside and saw, but didn’t feel it was appropriate to take pictures. But we did get a picture of some people in traditional Romanian clothing before they went into the church!

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Here are some other ones:

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I am currently working on translating some of the tombstones on my own. The translation above our tour guide told us, and then I found it online. However, I took pictures of the ones I really want to translate. It is hard, but I’m getting there!

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As Hannah said, I was probably the most excited tourist that the Merry Cemetery has ever encountered!

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Visiting Ukraine

We mentioned to Florin (our tour guide in Maramureş) that we wanted to visit Ukraine, so he dropped us off at the Ukranian/Romanian border and said to call him when we wanted him to pick us back up…and we went to Ukraine! Madeline didn’t bring her passport, so she went to Sighet, but the rest of us went! 

Yes, we realize that there is a lot of craziness going on there right now (we were there the day after the President was impeached). Florin was making sure we’d be okay, and all 3 of them were like “Chloe knows self defense!” So, I felt the need to inform them that it’s called SELF defense, not GROUP defense. They accepted that, and we went on our way. 

We got our passport stamped when we left Romania, and then we walked across a bridge over the dividing river…

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…and were in Ukraine! Then we went to border patrol on the Ukrainian side…when the lady took my passport, she turned to the guy next to her and said “United States of America…” and they both laughed. Carley went next and they asked her what we were going to do, so she told them the truth – we just want to go walk around! So, we were all through! We’re not sure that they’ve EVER had 4 American girls walking across the border before…

This is the name of the village we were in!

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Hannah knows Russian due to her mission in Russia, so we used her. She was a shining star! There was a little shop, and I had to go to the bathroom, so Hannah and I headed inside while Alana and Carley waited outside. On the way in, we heard what sounded like a gunshot…we stopped, wondered if the other two were okay, decided they were, and headed inside. She asked if there was a bathroom there and I got to use it for free, which was unexpected. Then we just went and walked! Turns out the gunshot could have just been just an explosion. There was a pile of trash nearby that a kid had lit on fire, and as soon as the sound happened, the kid ran inside like he was scared…so it could’ve been something popping from his fire, for all we know.

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We were walking through a very….interesting…old….town…village. There were piles of garbage everywhere…like the one that was on fire. Oh, and when we were passing a different shop, we saw 2 kids playing, and one had a gun that looked totally real. Luckily, it was a toy, but it made real noises when he cocked it and he was holding it sideways and pretending to shoot stuff, including his friend. That was slightly sketchy. We kept walking, took pictures, and found a statue!

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These are some ladies that were in the park by the statue.

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A Jewish church. 

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The nicest building we saw the whole time we were there.

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Exploring

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After exploring a bit, we stopped in a shop. Hannah (she does all the talking in Russian and they all understand her) asked if they accept cards, and she said no…and we didn’t have any of the Ukrainian currency. So, we stopped in a different shop, and Hannah asked if they take cards or lei. He said he accepts lei…so we looked around! This is the shop….really, it’s a “shop”.

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Hannah found  some cookies she LOVES (from when she was on her mission in Russia) and bought 10 packages. I found a 7-Up in Ukrainian for my friend Judy who collects 7-up from different countries, and we also bought Snickers Super bars (and we also got one for Madeline, of course). When the man was adding up the total in lei, he had a hard time counting in Romanian for us. On the way out, he was chatting with Hannah. When we left, we asked her what they were talking about. She said he asked if we were from America, and she said yes. He asked how she knows Russian, and she said she lived in Moscow for a year and a half. He asked what other language she knows. She said just English, Russian, some Romanian, and sorry, but no Ukrainian. He said to not worry about learning Ukrainian, there is no need for it. We found that interesting, because that’s the same thing that a lot of Romanians say about learning Romanian!

After that, we left. We were in Ukraine for probably about 30-45 minutes. And it was SO worth it!

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On the way out, the border patrol on the Ukrainian side were talking to Hannah in Russian. He said he couldn’t believe we were from America because we are not fat! Uhm…thanks?

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The border patrol on the Romania side on the way back….the lady asked us if we had cigarettes or alcohol, and we said no. She looked at us, then went and got a big guy. He asked us if we had cigarettes. We said no. He asked why. We said it’s because we don’t smoke. He looked confused, but let us go. Like champs.

You see, cigarettes are a lot cheaper in Ukraine, so people go there to buy them. We learned that from our tour guide. 

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It was really nice to get back into Romania. It felt like coming home after a crazy, dangerous adventure. It was incredible to see how nice Romania looked after being in this tiny village in Ukraine.

Also, I’ve officially been to 9 countries. It will be 10 in April when I go to Ireland! I’m really glad we got to walk to Ukraine, and that we were safe. 

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Living in Romania: Things I’ve Gotten Used To

I have been living in Iaşi, Romania for the past month and a half, which  means I’m about halfway through my internship. So hard to believe!

I have gotten used to a different lifestyle than I am used to. Here is a sampling of some of the things I have gotten used to while living here. This has become my life, and it will be weird to go back to my old ways when I get back to the United States. 

1. Walking everywhere.

I was the girl who had a car, had 3 jobs in 3 different cities (within an hour of each other, don’t worry) and drove everywhere. I am now the girl that is used to walking to get groceries, go to work, go see friends, go have fun, anything. And I love it. 

2. Only buying what I can carry home.

I was the girl who was used to shopping at Costco every other month, and driving to and from the grocery store every other week or so. I am now the girl who that is used to walking to and from the grocery store every time I need something, and carrying it home…or simply going without.

3. Running the water for 5 minutes before I can shower.

I was the girl who was spoiled by the convenience of hot water straight from the tap (okay, sometimes I had to wait, but it was always less than 1 minute). I am now the girl that knows to start the water early when I know I’ll want to shower soon.

4. Paying for drinking water.

I was the girl who was spoiled by the clean water coming through the tap whenever I was thirsty. I was the girl who always ordered water when she ate out, because that is my favorite drink. I am now the girl who is used to buying all her drinking water. I buy it at the restaurant. I buy it from the store to take home. And if I forget to bring my water bottle with me during the day, I have to buy it when I am out and about.

5. Cooking and baking without measurements.

I was the girl who was ever so precise when it came to cooking and baking. I had to measure out everything that went into the food I was making. I am now the girl who is very apprehensive to try to bake, knowing that I am guessing on how full the mug is and if I think it’s the right amount. This is something I totally still struggle with, and I can’t wait to get back to my own kitchen gadgets.  

6. Delicious chocolate.

I was the girl who enjoyed a chocolate bars when I was in the mood. Now I am the girl who is obsessed with Kinder (and Milka) chocolate at any time of day, and am convinced that American chocolate is a joke. As my friend Emily says: “The US probably has some FDA regulation about candy tasting too good.”

7. Lighting the oven and the stove.

I was the girl who was just like most Americans, with the oven and stove that starts right when you want it to. Now I am the girl who is used to making sure we always have matches so we can light the stove and the oven when we need to use them.

8. Hang drying my laundry.

I was the girl who would wait until the last minute to do her laundry, knowing that it would be good to go in less than 3 hours once I finally got around to doing it. I am now the girl who has a tiny washer and no dryer, with a balcony, a clothesline, and clothespins. It takes a few days for the clothes to dry on the balcony. Luckily, we have 7 hangers so we can hang stuff inside, and it only takes overnight to dry…usually. Then we can rotate the outside clothes to the hangers inside. I’ve gotten used to this process.

9. Volunteering all day.

I was the girl who was a full-time student, with 2, 3, or 4 part-time jobs (depending on the year), and still found time to volunteer sometimes. I am now the girl who wakes up, volunteers at an orphanage, goes home and eats lunch, volunteers at a hospital (or a Kindergarten, depending on the day), and then goes home and eats dinner. And most nights, I am on my computer becoming best friends with Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro as I make boards for the 15-year old I work with. Or, you can find me trying to think of ways to adapt games that I love to play, so that he can play them as well. And I love it.

10. Leaving the windows open.

I used to be the girl who would leave my house and not worry about if I’d remembered to leave my windows open or not. I am now the girl that has to remember to crack the windows open before I leave to avoid mold. And I must say, my roommate and I have gotten pretty good at remembering!

However, I realize that when I get back home, most of these things that I’ve gotten used to will no longer be applicable to me in America.
And that’s okay.
It is simply two different lifestyles, and I love them both.

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Visiting Maramures: A Wood Carver

As part of our tour with Florin, we went and saw a wood carver named Teodor. His house was beautiful, as were his gates and so much more!

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His dad did a wood-carved arch for the Smithsonian World Festival in Washington, and he’s pretty famous in the USA, apparently. Oh and he said that last week they sent off something to New Jersey! He showed us some of his work – incredible. All the wooden chains we’ve been seeing – they’re all just out of one piece of wood! We saw one in action! You can see some of the wooden chains in the first picture above.
Then he showed us what his current project is – a huge cross. I’m holding the picture of what it will look like. On the left of me, you can see the centerpiece, and on the right of me you can see another piece of it. 

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Here is a better view of a part of the centerpiece…

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It is being pieced together, and he showed us the one in his workspace that he is currently doing.

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AND HE LET US HELP! Except, Carley didn’t want to. It was so fun!

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He also showed us the wooden walker he learned to walk in, and the wooden cradle that he slept in when he was a baby. Here is the walker:

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Here are all of his tools he uses…he laid them out for us to see.

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This is what the wooden shingles look like before they are put onto a roof. You can see wooden shingles all over Maramures, especially at the Wooden Chruches

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His whole yard is just COVERED with wood. 

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These are some crosses that he recently finished.

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And, here is a bear that he carved…with a stick in it’s mouth, apparently. The other animals all also had sticks in their mouth, as if a child had come through and played a joke on all the animals. 

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It was all so incredible.

He said we should come back and work in the summer and he would teach us everything about wood carving. Boy, I would seriously love to do that. Take a summer off to come and work as a wood carver and learn the ways. 

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Visiting Maramureş: Wooden Churches

If you are visiting Maramureş, make sure you go and see the wooden churches!They are famous in Maramureş.

The first one had a cemetery surrounding it. The church was built in 1770 and the inside was painted in 1780.

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There were two rooms inside. We only got to see the first room because there was a service going on inside to honor a deceased person. Florin (our guide) said that the person they were honoring could have died a year ago, or 6 months ago, not really sure. But they had beautiful round and braided loaves of bread on the table, with tall candles sticking out of them. And some of the loaves were impaled on a glass bottle. Florin said that the bread is an offering to the deceased.

The first room in the church is for the women to stay in, and only men can enter into the second room. We looked at the paintings in the first room – they were beautiful. Florin explained it to us later. He said  that the first room is for judgment after you die. Heaven on the left, and hell on the right. You can see the people in the paintings being tortured and sad on the right side. In the second room, it is painted with scenes from the bible. Because everybody used to not have a bible, they would come here to learn about the bible stories.

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Oh, and we love that there are chickens EVERYWHERE. 

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The second wooden church we went to was also surrounded by a cemetery. This one had paintings hanging on the outside, and they were of Christ carrying the cross. 

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There were red glasses in a lot of the graves, so we asked Florin what they were – candles. And then we asked the significance of them being red – none, they are just made in China. That was pretty great. 

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This church was locked, and Florin said we could wait for someone to come unlock it, or we could go ahead. We said we didn’t care either way, so he said we’d go. 

Then, we went to a monastery. It was a wooden one! This one has the tallest wooden steeple in Europe. It would be the tallest in the world, except that the Guiness world records said it is disqualified because the stone foundation is too tall. Whatever. It was awesome. 

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It was incredible that everything is made of wood! I am constantly amazed by this. I always thought that wood would just rot and get gross, but it’s not! And then we figured it’s just covered in a sealant or something…but it’s not! You could run your hand across some of the really old parts and totally get splinters. The detail work is incredible.

We went up the stairs and explored inside. Well, there was a service going on inside, but the outside there is a balcony area (you can see it in the picture above).

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Oh and there was a staircase up to the next level, which was totally just carved out of a tree trunk! However, it was scarily split down the middle…
Also, going up was hard…but going down was a lot harder!

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If you are ever in Maramureş, make sure you go and visit the wooden churches!

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Visiting Maramureş: Exploring Vadu Izei

We got to take a vacation and go visit Maramureş! We stayed at Casa Muntean in Vadu Izei. Florin is the name of the man that owns Casa Muntean. He took us on a tour the second and third days we were there. The first day we were there, we went exploring! We walked around Vadu Izei for about 2 and a half hours, and learned a lot about everyday life in the small villages in the mountains of Romania. We asked Florin about some of it when we got back, and learned even more. 

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We went down random streets and saw beautiful things. So many colorful houses, horses pulling wagons and trailers, a 3-wheeled car, chickens, and so much more.

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So many houses had satellite dishes, yet they were hang drying their clothing. We found it very interesting that they’d buy a satellite dish instead of a dryer. I guess you just go with what you are used to!

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Also, no running water as far as we could tell – almost every house had a well! I’m not sure if they were all in use, or if some had running water, but we saw a lady getting water out of her well. We later learned from Florin that about 50% of the houses have running water. Everyone has a well, and you just have to decide if you can afford to get a pipe system or not.

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We also saw so many intricately detailed carved wooden fences. 

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 And some really ghetto sketchy fences. And some really amazing homemade fences.

For the fence below, we imagined the dad saying “Son, get some sticks. We need a fence.”

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I love that each house is distinctly different. Some are painted, some are covered in beautiful tiled artwork (the tiles are made of ceramic), and some have both. We had so much fun strolling along the roads.

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We tried to go and visit a glass maker and a rug maker, but they weren’t home. Very unfortunate. We did find a river, which was COVERED in trash on the banks. But Carley was VERY happy to go down by it. She’s such a water girl.

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We also saw log cutters! They had tree trunks and were cutting it with an electric saw – a HUGE one. And then another guy would carry the forever long slat to a pile – it was really incredible to see it in action. 

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We also noticed that most of the horses had red tassels hanging off of their heads. 

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We later learned that the purpose of the red tassels is to ward off the evil eye. It is a superstition, but many people are afraid of the evil eye, so they wear red. Alana asked “even the horses?” And Florin said “Yes, I guess so.” He seemed to think it was a weird superstition, but we saw it everywhere!

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The streets were lined with trees cut to a stub. 

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A bridge that we cross over had holes…deep holes…can you tell which feet are mine?

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We had so much fun exploring!

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The Struggle

I’m about to tie two unlikely things together – my experience working at the Deaf Center in Utah, USA and my experience living in Iasi, Romania.

I used to work at the Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Taylorsville, Utah. Before, that, I was a volunteer there, which ended up just developing into a job! I loved it.

So many times, I would be working at an event, and there were volunteers that were ASL (American Sign Language) students. Most of them didn’t know that I’m hearing – they usually thought I was Deaf for some reason.

One particular instance illustrates this perfectly. There were two girls who were ASL students from a local college, I don’t remember which one. I could tell that they had a question for me, but weren’t sure how to ask me in ASL. I totally eavesdropped as they slowly walked up behind me…they were talking about how to sign their question. They tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and signed “Hey, what’s up?”

They then proceeded to sign “We are here to volunteer and…” and then they looked at each other, and I could tell they didn’t know how to sign what they wanted to say next. So, I guided them through the conversation (I knew what they wanted because I heard them talking about it as they walked up to me) as I signed them in and started to tell them where they were assigned to volunteer. I could tell that they were completely lost when they kept glancing at each other and whispering the few signs they understood me signing. I could tell it wasn’t working for them, and after a little bit I ended up just saying “Or we can just talk, I am hearing.” I could see their bodies relax as they gave a nervous laugh and I began speaking to them in English, telling them were they were assigned to volunteer.

Things like that happened multiple times. Both while I was at work at the Deaf Center, and while I was the volunteer coordinator for some events for Sego Lily Center for the Abused Deaf. So many times.

NOW, let’s relate that to my experience here in Romania so far.

I am really trying to learn Romanian. I know I could probably devote more time to sitting down and studying the language, but I am doing what I can with the time that I have. I promise.

I was at a shop the other day and I was trying to ask an employee a question. She was watching me struggle as I used a weird mixture of Romanian, English, and gestures/ASL (sometimes I revert back to ASL when English/Romanian isn’t working out for me, and gestures when ASL isn’t working, either). She spoke Romanian back to me, and I understood some of it, but I was mostly lost, so I did my weird mixture of languages again. She sort of smiled, and then said “I speak English, what do you need?” And my body and brain totally began to relax as I asked her my question, and got an answer.

However, I do not always get that relief. Usually I just have to be left in a state of confusion.

So now, I feel that I am those ASL students that would struggle to communicate with me at the Deaf Center and other events. Except…I don’t always have the ever-so-welcome relief of someone saying “I speak English.”

The moral of the story?

When you are in a situation where you have to use the language you are learning, it’s a relief to discover that the person you are talking to speaks a language you know very well…even if they do get a little bit of pleasure out of letting you struggle for a little bit first.

It is through struggling and making mistakes that we learn.

And I love it. 

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