One of the very first ways people connect with each other is through language. The very foundation of journalism is communication among people. When traveling outside of the U.S., it is expected that you will face language barriers, some stronger than others. However, as we sat on the plane studying basic key phrases from directions and greetings, naively believing that we were picking up a basic level of communication, we had no idea what was in store for us.
As we took our first stroll around downtown Prague, we quickly realized a great part of communication is non-verbal. This was the most difficult country to adapt to verbally since none of us had any knowledge of Czech. Luckily, many people we came in contact with knew basic English so we were able to communicate to a practical extent. Our first dinner was at a small, quaint restaurant. Parched and starved, we sat down ready to eat. However, as we opened the menus, we realized the entire thing was in Czech. To top it off, we learned that water, the most basic substance of our lives, was not free. It was as if the waiter told us we could no longer breathe. Paying for water? What had we gotten ourselves into?
After being thrown right in the pit of Czech culture, we were so grateful to find a Hard Rock Café to bring back some American culture. On the way home later that night, we struggled with directions, hoping the locals could point us in the right direction. One local told us to go in one direction and a police officer told us the complete opposite way. After roaming the streets for 45 minutes and asking for help numerous times, we finally made it. This language barrier would be a lot more difficult than we thought.
We did some incredible sight seeing along the way, from the Prague Castle to the John Lennon Wall. We walked 273 long, tiring, spiral steps to the very top of the castle where we were blown away with a vast overview of the city.
At McCann-Erickson, an advertising company, I got to really see just how different advertising is overseas. In America, a single ad in English can reach the entire country and everyone can understand and relate. In Europe, they face the task of making ads that can reach numerous cultures and languages.
Paris, a city I had always dreamed of visiting, was finally here. Our first media stop was France Televisions, the leading media group in France. It is a state-owned company formed by the conjoining of six different television stations, and broadcasted in French as well as 12 different languages on TV and radio. Seeing the diversity made us realize just how ignorant Americans can be. We automatically assumed we could turn on a TV and find numerous stations broadcasted in English, which we did find a few, but if the French came to America they would not be able to find strictly French-based stations. As we roamed the streets of Paris and dined in small cafés, we learned that many of the locals knew English and were all very friendly and accommodating as long as we made an effort to speak their language and respect their culture.
However, some of the locals were not so friendly. As we boarded a train to Versailles, I had the clueless traveler’s experience of being pick-pocketed. Luckily I noticed quickly enough to act. I found myself angry and yelling at a young gypsy who didn’t know a word of English, but she quickly got the hint and gave me my wallet back.
Upon arriving in Brussels we realized we could all loosen up a little bit, as English is common. Many of the citizens speak Dutch and French but the city was very American friendly. Brussels is the political center of Europe and the home of the European Union. There are 27 EU member countries with 23 different official languages. During Parliament sessions, interpreters sit in skyboxes so each of the 754 Members of Parliament, dignitaries, and visitors can wear headphones and listen to a translation in the language of their choice.
At Hill + Knowlton Strategies employees are able to speak 12 of the 23 official EU languages. Their major task: generating content of EU affairs that can pertain to all 27 countries and their languages. They believe that relationships with clients and good communication is key, so diversity among their corporation is crucial to making this happen.
The beautiful and ancient city of Rome is deeply immersed in religion, which intertwines with language. At Vatican Radio, it was amazing to learn that they broadcast in 47 different languages. The main goal of the Vatican Radio is to spread the voice of the Pope, so diversity of languages is key in order to reach the most amount of people.
At Pontifica Universitas Sanctae Crucis, we learned that students come to study there from 90 different countries. We had very interesting discussions with the professors and learned that the people that come to the University may all speak different languages and have different cultures, but they come together for a common purpose: Catholicism.
As we sat on the plane the very first day headed for Europe, discussing how to say basic words in Czech, French, Dutch, and Italian such as “hello” and “where is the bathroom,” we didn’t realize just how important of a role language would play on our adventure. As we traveled from country to country, trying different foods and seeing different sights, one thing that always remained important to daily life was language. In the US we rely heavily on everything from street signs to the daily newscast being in English. I was amazed at how common it was for people to know anywhere from two to seven different languages fluently. Upon arriving back in America, I have never heard a group of people so ecstatic to hear the words “Hello” and “Welcome.”
By: Andie Lowenstein