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Before coming to Ukraine people often asked me, “Where will you live?” When I explained that I would live with a host family the next question was always, “Will they speak English?” I confidently assured them that yes, at least one person in my home would speak English.
Good thing Barry told us to be flexible. As it turns out, my host family does not speak English. Not even a little.
At first the idea of living with strangers who don’t speak English intimidated me. Then I met Pastor Peter and Vera. Now I am an expert in the art of communicating sans speech. In fact, living with my hosts is one of the highlights of my trip. So enjoy a few tips on me.
1. Relax. After getting over the initial shock of my situation, I reminded myself to relax. Not being able to communicate via words really isn’t as big of a deal as you might think. It probably won’t result in an untimely death or an earth shattering catastrophe (though I have wondered if perhaps I should learn the words for fire, run, and help).
2. Shut up. Next remember that speaking louder and more slowly will not increase the odds of being understood. If they don’t speak English and you don’t speak Ukrainian, no amount of slowing down your speech will change this. It’s better to revert to a silent stare down than to a screaming match.
3. Point. Pointing is an art form I have begun to master. Often what needs to be said can be demonstrated through pointing at objects in the vicinity. However, sometimes pointing results in confusion. I have accidentally asked for salt not sugar, and indicated I would be home at 7 not 8.
4. Just agree! This has become my new motto. Once I mastered the simple words for no, yes, please, and thank you I realized it’s really just best to say yes. If you agree with whatever is going on, things tend to go much more smoothly. Disagreeing requires an explanation and a revision of plans. This is virtually impossible and proves more frustrating than just saying yes. Use caution though. I once unintentionally agreed that I was dating the guy next to me.
5. Laugh often! I frequently laugh at myself. There are so many moments I have no idea what is going on. Sometimes I even look incredibly foolish because I misunderstand the situation. One time I stayed overnight at a home without a translator. I think I was told to remove my clothes, put on a robe, and wash my feet. Honestly though, I had no idea what was going on. I did my best and laughed at myself as I stood in a tub of water wearing a stranger’s robe.
6. Be creative! I discovered that if you really feel starved for conversation, you can always find someone –or something– to talk to. For example, I named a spider in my bathroom Bob. Whenever I got lonely I found Bob and had a good old chat. Of course eventually I had to kill him, but you get the idea.
7. Witness God’s love. The biggest lesson I have learned living here is that God’s love surpasses all language barriers. Pastor Peter and Vera (my hosts) are quite possibly the sweetest, most hospitable couple I have ever met. Although we don’t speak the same language, every day they communicate God’s love to me. When Vera gives me a big hug goodbye every morning and prays over me, and when Pastor Peter sings me songs on the way to MTU, I feel God’s love.
I hope one day you too find yourself in a situation where no one speaks your language. Remember to relax, be creative, and enjoy a few laughs on yourself.
About the Author: Krystallin was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. She is currently a senior at Moody Bible Institute majoring in Communication Studies. After graduation, she hopes to spend her life pursuing justice for the oppressed. She loves adventure and chases tornadoes on her time off.