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Language – not English – is Universal

Kaitlin Vitt
16 April 2018

I love how the English language isn’t widespread in Ukraine. It means people are keeping the Ukrainian language alive, and therefore the culture. Though I’ve met many people who speak English, there doesn’t seem to be an expectation that you know it, unless you’re in the tour industry.
I have an head-up since English is my native tongue, because it’s so common worldwide, but I try not to abuse this advantage. My time here has shown me that it’s possible to live in a country where you don’t know the language, but it is important to me to learn Ukrainian. For how do you truly get to know a country if you can’t speak with locals about their culture?
My friends and I are nowhere near being fluent in Ukrainian, but we still manage to have intriguing conversations with people we meet on our travels. Some things are lost in translation, but we still manage to get to know them.
We skip the small talk, and dig deeper, because why waste time and effort on translating information that doesn’t bring us closer to each other? Maybe that’s why some of the closest friends we’ve made in Ukraine are those who don’t understand English. (Or maybe it’s because they don’t get to know our true selves – let’s hope it’s the former.)
I haven’t had any negative experiences when locals realise I am not fluent in their language, though I often draw unwanted attention to myself due to my broken Ukrainian, or because my friends and I are naturally louder speakers than Ukrainians.
At a restaurant, a waitress told us to quiet down recently; and another time a couple came up to us as they were leaving to tell us we were too loud. Maybe the man just wanted to practise his English, because after his wife scolded us in Ukrainian, he turned to us and said in English, “Understand? Bye.” This has immediately become one of our favourite inside jokes with each other.
Even when we try to be discreet, we still get caught as English speakers. One of the workers at a grocery store in Lutsk usually spots my friends and I, insisting that when we check out, we go to the cashier who knows English. He will take us out of the line we’re in to make this happen. It’s kind of him, but a little over the top seeing as you don’t need to be fluent in a language to read the screen with the total amount and hand over the cash.
You can learn a lot about yourself and others while living in a country where you don’t know the language. You learn confidence, because you’re forced out of your comfort zone, and you learn patience, because it takes time to get your point across. So whether or not you’re a master of the native language of the country you’re living in, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. You never know the adventures you’ll come across by taking a risk.

Follow Kaitlin as she discovers Ukraine
Twitter: @kaitlinvitt
Instagram: @kaitlinvitt

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