It was my first night meeting my host family, and with the nervousness raging through me, I could barely talk. Our host mother called out her two sons to come meet us, and Jaime and Nacho (short for Ignacio) extend the Spanish way of saying hello: a slight hug with the motion of a kiss on each cheek.
“Where are you from?” Jaime asks me in Spanish, but in my total state of disarray and tightly-coiled nerves, I don’t even hear him. I imagine he asked what my name is.
“Soy Jessie,” I offer him a smile, but with the sudden flash of confusion that crosses his face, I worry I’ve made a mistake.
“Jersey?” His brow furrows.
After some laughing and a flash of embarrassing heat on my cheeks, I explain that Jessie is my name, and I’m from Pennsylvania, though it seems that both pronouns are difficult for the common Spaniard to recognize or pronounce. Here, my name is no longer the American “Jessie,” but is pronounced more like “Yes-see.” (But that’s certainly better than one of my professors calling me Justin until I told her she could call me Yessie.)
In the moment, all of these situations are pretty embarrassing, I’ll admit. All of the miscommunication errors are more than enough to bring an instant rosiness to my cheeks and a nervous giggle to force its way out. Yet, these experiences have been some of my fondest memories because I can look back and laugh at all those funny stories.
It’s so easy to be scared of these embarrassing moments, but I have to tell you, please make them! Throw away the pride that tells you to take yourself so seriously and adopt a strong sense of humility, accepting the heat on your cheeks as encouragement instead of a reprimand. You’ll learn so much more about yourself, the culture, and the language if you just put yourself out there.
From my experience, they’re not going to judge you for trying. When I was talking to my host brother, Nacho, about how nervous I get when talking to them, he promised that they wouldn’t get annoyed or mad at me for asking them to repeat what they said, even if I asked multiple times. And honestly, most of our miscommunications are the most fun and end in plenty of laughter on both ends. Nacho still teases me a little for not understanding him when he said “Star Wars.” (Sometimes the English words are more difficult to understand than the Spanish ones!)
Don’t be intimidated though, I’m still working on following my own advice.
Sometimes the most embarrassing experiences make the best stories.
So remember, you’re not embarrassing yourself; you’re just making some awesome stories.