How does a German who has never been to the United States and an American who has never been to Germany become good friends?
There he was, standing in the corner of the lunch room drinking coffee while waiting for Spanish classes to resume. As I went to serve myself some tea, I heard him speak in a familiar tongue – it was Spanish! The thing was, he was clearly not your ordinary Spanish speaker; no, he was German – blue eyes and all. How did he learn to speak Spanish so well? Better yet, what was a German doing in Ecuador? As I nervously approached the tall stranger, I decided to test his Spanish speaking skills with a tough question:
“Hola amigo, cómo estás?”
Now that I knew that he was fluent, it was time to learn more about him…
“Hablas español buenísimo! Cómo te llamas? De dónde eres? Cómo aprendiste hablar así? Hasta hablas mejor que a mi! Qué vas a estar haciendo aquí?” I showered him with all sorts of questions! I just found it so interesting to be learning about this foreign culture in Quito of all places.
After learning that his name was Felix Jager and that he took Spanish classes at his school in Germany and that Ecuador was the eleventh country he has been to (I know, right?!), what I found most interesting about him was why he was here: he was going to be teaching environmental sciences while living in Mindo behind the Pichincha with a host family. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded eerily familiar to something else… My Global Citizen Year!
Felix wasn’t Ecuadorian. Felix wasn’t a Fellow. Felix wasn’t even American. Felix and I couldn’t be friends under normal circumstances, but these weren’t normal circumstances. We were both in Ecuador, a completely different country for us. We were both getting ready to live new lives for the next year. We were both on our way to becoming global citizens.
Language is a strange beast; it can separate entire groups of people, yet it can also bring them together. Although I have never been to Germany and Felix had never been to the United States, we didn’t have to speak each other’s first language to communicate. As a matter of fact, we were able to do so with our second language: Spanish!
So how does a German who has never been to the United States and an American who has never been to Germany become good friends?
Through the power of Spanish, of course!