Lost In Translation: An International Student’s Perspective

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When I was younger, I wasn’t sure if I believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or a two-faced person. Then I grew up and became one. Living in El Salvador for many years, I made friends and small talk as easily as some people breathe. That ease led me to think that communications could be both my passion and (more importantly) my major in college.

Post-epiphany, I started getting involved in the field and found that I loved it. Confident in my major, I turned my attention to finding the perfect school. I searched for colleges in Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, did a ton of research and then decided to screw it and go for my biggest dream location: the United States. It was perfect. Who cared that I only knew Spanish? I clearly didn’t– until, of course, I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska.

My English wasn’t the greatest, so instead of talking and practicing my skills more, I did the next most logical thing: avoid people like the plague. Why make a fool out of myself when I could just be silent? A few months into our relationship, one friend said (lovingly), “When I met you I thought you were so weird. You would only say yes or no to all my questions.” Sadly, that is a hundred percent accurate.

I had no idea who I’d become. How was I this weird person who said two words max when back at home I was the person who carried conversations? I was the senior class president in high school. I knew almost everyone by name. I loved meeting people. How had I become some random shy girl that was too weird to even want to start a conversation?

Cue, the identity crisis. I was confused. Who was I? Was I the extrovert that enjoyed long conversations or the weird introvert with broken English? It turned out I was both.

Let me clarify that being an introvert isn’t a bad thing. It just wasn’t who I thought I was. The language barrier quieted the chatterbox I was back at home. At school, I thought that people would make fun of me. That they would think I was dumb if I took too long thinking of a response. I thought avoiding conversation was the best solution, but people refused to be ignored.

So my back up plan kicked into gear: I had to overcome my fears. And even though I became a bit more shy and introverted, I did eventually speak and make friends who helped me understand my homework assignments and corrected me when I made mistakes. I learned new words like “demystify” and “procrastination” and became more comfortable speaking English.

Language has become a major influence on my personality and judgment. American culture and its distinguishable characteristics have created a barrier that I am always working to overcome. It’s frustrating at times to have so much to say and not be able to put it into words. People judge what they are able to perceive and sometimes–most times– perception isn’t an accurate reflection of a person.

Becoming a one-face person in two different cultures requires a lot more dedication than I thought when boarding my plane to the US. And honestly, even after three years in Nebraska, I still don’t know if it’s possible.


I'm an international student from El Salvador at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. I'm a junior and my major is communications with an emphasis in public relations.

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