Learning to expect the unexpected is a valuable skill to have. It allows you to be more flexible in your ideas of what something might look like or sound like. We all come full of preconceived notions about an environment based on past experiences, stories in the media, and the stories of friends and families. Each outlet of information can portray a subject in a different way, therefore we must be learn to expect what we may not be expecting.
For example, I currently am in Dakar, Senegal studying language and social justice in education through my graduate program at SIT. The preparation for this field course made me excited, curious, and apprehensive. I was most certainly a bundle of nerves as I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac, my first steps into an unfamiliar place where I knew that my language skills were not going to be nearly enough to help me communicate. I couldn’t quite believe that I was here, everything about Dakar is completely different than the environment I have grown up and lived in for all of my life so far. The first glimpses I had of the area were baffling, I had never seen anything like it.
I had arrived a day early, and I knew I was going to have to find my way to my hotel, late at night which proved to a challenge I had and at the same time had not expected. What surprised me most about this experience and experiences later on, was my observation that those speaking to me in French or Wolof did not become frustrated. I on the other hand was immediately flustered and frustrated when I knew that I could not respond to them in their own language. It was a frustration with myself for never achieving fluency in a second language and I suppose I expected the locals to become frustrated with me when I could not converse with them like they wanted to. However, so far, no one has gotten impatient with me. The Senegalese people have unexpectedly proven my expectations to be false.
I think this patience the Senegalese have displayed speaks to huge the difference between multilingual cultures and monolingual cultures. I have seen many times in the U.S locals becoming frustrated, agitated even, when a customer or stranger looking for directions on the street, tries to speak to them in language that is not English. There is no patience for miscommunications and this attitude is directly reflected in the school system in the U.S. Where students are taught, more often than not, that their first language is only to be spoken at home where others can understand them.
My experience with the taxi drivers outside of the airport was the most prominent so far, maybe because, it was my first one in Dakar because it certainly was the only one. But as I continue forward, now at my homestay with my host family, I will continue to learn and observe the culture and language. Expecting the unexpected as I go.