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Translating friendship

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Thursday, August 1, 2013

TOLEDO, Spain – I don’t have the words I need to explain exactly how the past six weeks I’ve spent studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, have been infinitely better than I could have imagined.

I’ll admit it before I left, I was terrified. This summer marks the first time I’ve spent six weeks anywhere that’s not Michigan or Indiana, and I’ve had the chance to be in some incredible places. From wandering around La Alhambra to experiencing the madness that is Pamplona during the San Fermín festivals, I’ve been extremely lucky.

Far and away, though, the most incredible part of this summer was the people at my side, both American and Spanish friends. I’m so grateful to have Notre Dame friends I can see in a few weeks, and I’m sure we’ll all get together and obnoxiously reminisce for hours about our time here. I can’t wait for that part. But last night, I had to say goodbye to my two closest Spanish friends without knowing when I’ll be able to see them again. It’s amazing how friendship can crumble language barriers; I really believe we learned to communicate better because there were times when none of us had the right word in either language, but we still found ways to understand each other.

My Spanish improved exponentially in just six weeks, but with an accent, limited vocabulary and occasionally broken grammar, there’s only so much you can say. Our Spanish friends would make jokes or tease us playfully and then have to stop and explain what they had said and why it was funny, which usually made the entire situation more amusing. But we got to the point where we’d sit and just talk for hours and hours in a language relatively foreign to me. We all put more thought into our words because our Spanish friends had to select phrases we’d understand and we had to grasp for an English translation that was close enough to the words they said. And when we had something important to say, all we could do was fumble through words as well as we could, give whatever hand gestures or action cues seemed applicable, and then trust that the other person knew you well enough by then to fill in the gaps. We had fewer words at our disposal but certainly no shortage of meaningful interaction.

I don’t know when I can return to Spain, but my friends here said we will always have a home in Toledo and they would welcome us with brazos abiertos, open arms, at any moment. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I do know that I can’t stay away and I can’t forget the kind of friends who learned to read me like a book, despite the difficulty in translation. They taught me vocabulary I’d never learn in class; they taught me how to cook tortilla española and how to dance; they taught me that friendship doesn’t depend on language or nation.

I think the biggest lesson I learned while here is the power and weight of words in any language. The ability to speak both Spanish and English is an extraordinary gift, and it gave me the chance to make some of the best memories with some of the best friends I’ve ever had. One of my Spanish friends said when you realize that you’re in the middle of an incredible moment, you should turn to the people around you and share your exhilaration with them. Put words to it; tell them exactly why you’re happy and exactly what you’re enjoying about it, and that simple message will amplify the entire moment for all of you.

I guess that’s what I’m doing right now returning to my native language to try to express how unbelievably lucky I feel to have had this time in Toledo with friends from all over the world. I’m sad to leave without knowing when I can come back, but beneath that I’m profoundly happy because these six weeks have been even better than I’d dreamed, all thanks to la amistad internacional

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at ajakubo1@nd.edu