Today in “Things that might be happening somewhere in the depths of the ocean”: the British shark and its nutritional habits.
Today in “Things that might be happening somewhere in the depths of the ocean”: the British shark and its nutritional habits.
Five years ago, I was in a bit of a hassle. I had a full-time job, I was on the final lap of my PhD program, and still reeling from continuous relocation. “I should take up a hobby to decompress.” – I thought.
I was too lazy to exercise, and too impatient to knit. So I resorted to an old past time: drawing. When I say it OLD, I mean it 1.
Despite my questionable drawing skills, I decided to illustrate my everyday adventures abroad, a humorous graphic diary of language phenomena, culture clashes and awkward situations. That way, I could immortalize memorable moments as well as unravel the foreignness around me. A pretty exciting project.
So, today five years ago, I sat at home and came up with a concept. In the following days, I did some artwork, set up the website and Facebook page, and invited my family and close friends to follow my graphic journey. But then the unexpected happened: in a short time and for reasons that escaped my mind, a bunch of people all over the Internet had joined the intercultural party.
And here we are.
The 5-year anniversary merited a special post, so last month I threw a poll in the Expat Gone Foreign – Airport Lounge Group 2 to ask you guys what the content of this special occasion should be. Thy wish be done, my dearest friends!
Although most comic strips are the result of spontaneous language observations or social interactions abroad, I tend to get curious about the topic I’m illustrating, and this curiosity often leads to in-depth research. Whether I’m trying to unravel why British sinks have separate taps or figure out the origin of crazy German idioms, extensive reading, contrasting information and asking locals is always required to create accurate content.
Accuracy is important, but so is self-preservation. One brain fart, one cultural slip of the tongue, and the Internet will jump onto you like those hysterical hellhounds from Resident Evil.
Learning by doing – or in this case, learning by doodling – I have come across many fascinating facets of languages and foreign cultures as a result of illustrating and composing the articles.
In addition, and this is the coolest part, your comments and posts have taught me a great deal of cool stuff. Your experiences have given me an insight into different world views, and sometimes you’d make me see an issue from a totally different angle.
For instance, when I drew the time zone math, I was only thinking about the inconvenience of talking to friends who live on the opposite side of the planet, but it was brought to my attention that time zones were an absolute nightmare for programmers. I have a new found sympathy for them now. And this is ultimately what learning is about: going beyond your bubble, reaching out of your own reality and seeing the world from a different set of lenses.
You have been wonderful, and I can’t thank you enough for letting me borrow your glasses every once in a while. Which brings us to the next point:
Most relocation stories begin the same way: you bought a one-way ticket, packed your life in a suitcase, and now you are standing in the middle of your new yet daunting home, so scarcely furnished that your voice echoes all over the place. The emptiness is palpable, and the inevitable realization suddenly creeps in: you are on your own now.
You may be alone, but you are not the only one. We can be alone together, and that’s where Expat Gone Foreign comes in. In the past five years, we have become a quaint little community where you have shared your relocation experiences, daily struggles abroad, linguistic challenges and cultural interests, and in doing so, connected with other kindred spirits in a similar situation.
Since Expat Gone Foreign set sail, I have met a myriad of wonderful people 3, from language enthusiasts to inspiring migrants. Some of you I have met in person, some are online regulars that feel like long-time friends, and some have sent me lovely emails and encouraging words that have made my day on many occasions. Messages like “This comic helped me get over the initial culture shock, just when I thought I was going insane” or “This post gave me the final motivation kick to learn this language” are just priceless, and a constant reminder to keep doodling and bringing folks together.
The world is full of magical people. They may be scattered around, but we are getting closer.
With almost eight billion humans out and about, you are bound to bump into a considerable number of people who have different backgrounds and world views. And that’s great. Wonderful things can happen when we all put on our thinking caps and exchange ideas.
For all those enriching discussions, positive experiences and entertaining moments, there are always a few trolls lurking around. Of course there are different breeds: some are just bored passers-by that come at you with “this comics is stupid” (too bad, go draw your own comics then), others are douchebaguettes who seem to use social media only to smack and instigate fights.
The internet can be brutal, but soon enough I learnt that its creators provided us with brilliant mute options and block features. My advice: do your thing and don’t waste a second of your time on troubled souls. If it doesn’t spark joy, block it away.
Unraveling foreign cultures and connecting with people has been great, but there is a more valuable lesson that Expat Gone Foreign has taught me: gratitude.
For starters, I used to sail the internet without a second thought on how content got out there. Blogs, videos, podcasts and learning resources just happened to “be there”. Realizing how much dedication it takes to put articles and illustrations together has drastically changed this conception and the way I interact online. Now, whether I look up a cooking recipe, a language video or a post explaining how to fix that annoying computer error, I feel compelled to leave a “thank you” comment. It’s the least I can do in exchange. I mean, they could have kept their knowledge and skills to themselves, but instead they took the time to create something and put it out there. Like I said, the world is full of magical people.
But gratefulness goes far beyond our online habits. There’s also an offline world out there.
As I write these lines, I’m sitting comfortably at my desk, sipping homemade lemonade, listening to background music. I have a roof over my head, fresh produce in the fridge and running tap water. What we take for granted is not a self-evident reality, but rather, an inherited privilege. Yes, we worked hard for what we have, but think about where you started. Our lives may not have been the easiest, but I have met people whose poignant stories make my harshest experiences sound like a joke in comparison.
I don’t think we 4 realize how incredibly hard we hit the geographical jackpot when we were born, and how little thankfulness and solidarity we practice. Anytime is a good time to start.
Many readers think that I draw cutesy cartoons for a living. The fact is, doodling is just one of my hobbies 5. I work in the field of applied linguistics, and conduct independent research and language publications.
By independent I mean that I grew tired of churning out countless, time-bound academic publications that only a handful of scholars were ever going to read. And that’s the fifth lesson that Expat Gone Foreign has taught me in these five years: why create tedious products only for a reduced circle of erudites that are already experts in their field, when you can present your knowledge and share your skills in an entertaining, digestible manner, so that you spark the interest of the many?
If you are good at something, put it out there. Write, visualize, compose, create… you name it. There’s some truth to the trite cliche “Follow your passion”.
Now, I’m not saying that you should quit your job to start that gardening YouTube channel you have been dreaming about. One still has to be realistic. To this day, Expat Gone Foreign doesn’t make enough revenue to even cover the website hosting fees, let alone buy art supplies (although if you are feeling generous, you can always donate some gold or get some cool merchandise).
And that’s alright. I don’t expect it to ever become a sustainable income, but maybe someday it can generate enough profit to pay for itself and even advertise the comics, so that more people around the world get to enjoy them. Who knows? The world is our oyster.
Plant the seed. Do what you love, and eventually, every piece will fall into place.
Even if you are a penguin.
So long, and thanks for all the bliss.
Stay tuned on Expat Gone Foreign’s channels!
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Communicating in any foreign language can be an arduous task, especially when the language you are trying to speak contains phonemes 6 that are absent in your L1 2. This is the case and struggle of Spanish speakers when they learn English, and my dad is no exception…
These amusing happenstances occur because the devil is in the minimal pairs: two words that have a very similar pronunciation, but differ from one another by one phoneme in the same position in each word:
Whereas Spanish has one phoneme for <i>, English has a long /iː/ and short /ɪ/ one. No wonder Spanish speakers are confused when they start learning English. This madness would the phonetic equivalent of going to bed with two feet and waking up with four. One needs some practice to figure out how to navigate the world with additional extremities – or extra phonemes one had never had before.
To make matters worse, you will stumble upon words that contain the same graphic vowels, yet each one is pronounced differently:
But don’t fear, dear language learner! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you can train your ear to the different phonemes of the English language with online resources like this super cool interactive phonemic chart. If you are unsure how one word sounds, look up the pronunciation in dictionaries that include the IPA transcription and sound clips, like WordReference.
In conclusion, I think English learners should get more credit for their Herculean efforts.
In fact, anyone who stumbles upon words like these ↑ and doesn’t give up, deserves a standing ovation.
Last month I embarked on the journey of learning a new language from scratch: Italian!
I opted for an autodidactic approach, so I tailored the weekly units using online resources 3 and combined them with a touch of reality by watching shows, listening to songs and getting in touch with natives in my area. I also set up Duolingo to add a playful component whenever I have some minutes to kill, and that’s when the cross-cultural awkwardness began. This is me attempting to talk to a native after a few Duo lessons:
If you think I made these up, scroll down!
“I am a turtle”. Expat by day, turtle by night. Capisci?
“The monkey reads a book”. Monkeys are pretty smarty-pants at Duo.
“My snake eats your cakes”. Can you blame it? Your cakes are pretty delicious.
“Mario and Luigi are plumbers”. Badum-tss!
Click here for some ambiance.
And that’s not all! Here are some other screenshots that I have collected over the past few weeks. They range from funny to mildly distressing. Fair warning, Duo gets a bit insulting at times:
“You are the pig”. Remember, not just any pig. You are THE pig. Watch your manners.
“I speak with the turtle”. Wait, I thought I was the turtle!?
“You are mine until I die”. Bit possessive, aren’t we?
“Why do we die?” Duo gets philosophical in the late hours of the night.
“My sandals are in the hat”. Good to know you have your Diogenes syndrome in check, buddy.
Despite the somewhat useless but hilarious sentences that Duo throws at you every once in a while, I’m pleased with the app and the concept. I’m not going to get into detail, but here’s a trusted review of both Duolingo and Memrise. 2
I’m documenting my language progress on Twitter 3 using the hashtag #ilmioviaggiolinguistico. If you are learning Italian, join this linguistic journey!
What about you? Do you use language learning apps? To what extend have they boosted your language skills?
Before relocating to Britain, I truly believed that getting around would be a piece of cake, mostly because I already spoke English – or so I thought. Then the Geordie accent happened. From being greeted with “Alreet wor kid?” to deciphering my roommates’ conversations, the accent in Newcastle certainly posed a few challenges that I hadn’t anticipated.
– “I’m heading to [my] bed, I’m really exhausted, mate.”
– “You are kidding, man! We are going down town tonight to get wasted!
In addition, there’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to accent diversity in this country. Brits happen to change their accents depending on who they are talking to. John Doe could be talking to their colleagues in RP 4, switch to Cockney when he phones that friend from London and later on chat up his neighbors in Geordie. Linguistic chameleons at their finest.
This skill certainly makes communication much easier, since most Brits will rapidly switch to RP when they notice that you are not from town. Besides the occasional befuddlement when Geordies interact with one another, you’ll be just fine getting around.
If you liked this strip, check out British Sinks.