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The trip there and first impressions upon arriving


A Year in Egypt

I went to Egypt only one year after Anwar Sadat was assassinated.  Security was very tight.  I remember walking down the steps from the plane to the tarmac and seeing soldiers with guns at the bottom!  On the drive to the pension where we spent our first night in the country, more armed soldiers were positioned behind sandbags in windows along the thoroughfare.  I remember wondering if I could handle living in such a place.  That memory overshadows actually meeting my host family the next morning.

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Oh my gosh! I’m going to live in a tent

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The trip there was very nervewracking because it was such an unkown.  I had been to Europe before, so had I gone to someplace like that it would have been a little bit easier, but it was such an incredible unknown that I was really nervous.  We stopped in Vienna with all the students going to Austria.

As we were landing, the international airport, which says it’s in Amman, is actually outside of Amman in the middle of nowhere, literally.  As we were landing I was looking out the window and all we could see for miles was desert.  We couldn’t see buildings, we couldn’t see any trees, we couldn’t see any civilization whatsoever, we couldn’t see the airport.   All we could see was just desert.  We were like, oh my gosh, where are we going, what did we get ourselves into?  Finally after we landed then we realized that the airport was just way far away from the city, but that was pretty scary.  I really thought, oh my gosh I’m going to be living in a tent.  I was really scared at one point there.  OK, maybe I got myself into too much change here.

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Afrikaans and English in South Africa


When they took me home, the entire family was there – aunts, uncles, and cousins- and they were having a big barbecue.   It was just really overwhelming.

And although they did speak Afrikaans, they were totally bilingual, so they could speak English.  But generally what would happen is they would start out speaking English for me, and then about halfway through everybody would start speaking Afrikaans — not really realizing what they did.

So, I would find myself falling asleep and people were talking and I just didn’t understand what was going on.  And then everyone said, oh, Kathy, oh, and then they’d start speaking in English again.



On my host dad’s side, he had a brother that lived nearby and his wife was an English speaker.  The way it worked was whatever language the mother had was the language the kids would speak.  So because she was English, all those cousins spoke English.  So most of the time they spoke English, although they were bilingual as well.

Then my mom’s brother also  lived close by, and they were both Afrikaans, so those kids only spoke Afrikaans.  So communicating with the different kids was kind of interesting, getting to know, you know, who could speak what.

But getting used to their slang — they say, “just now” for, like, “in a while” or “later on”.   They knew I played the piano, and they said “we’re going to have you play just now”, and I thought that meant like, this minute.   It would just make me nervous and I would keep forgetting that “just now” actually meant “well, maybe someday”.   So I was all panicked.  But it was like, no, it didn’t mean right then.  It was later.  And by the time I got back to the states I was saying “just now” all the time and people didn’t understand what I was saying.

I was really worried that I was going to do something wrong. 

I was really trying to pay a lot of attention to what I was doing, and catching on to the accent and figuring out what it was they were talking about.  And the kids had a lot of questions for me.  Like, do you really eat peanut butter and jelly?  And I said, yeah.  Because jelly there is Jell-O, and so they were imagining people eating peanut butter with Jell-O.  And I said, well, it’s peanut butter and jam, really.  So, “Oh, okay.  We get it now.”

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Reflexive ‘holy shit’ moment

It was a little disconcerting.  As you probably know, all the exchange students travelled from the US together.  We landed in Budapest not knowing what to expect.  We saw army men on the ground with machine guns through the windows of the airplane.  We had to walk down a ladder to deplane and get onto a bus.  There were people on top of the airport watching the planes come in waiving at us.  One of the US girls from Alaska started crying.  We waited together for our luggage in a holding pen for a while and heard Hungarian over the airport intercom.  The exchange students from New Zealand joined us.  Finally, they opened these two-way-mirrored sliding doors and let us out of the holding pen after we got our luggage.  This scary lady with crazy blue and silver eyeshadow ran up to me and started kissing me on my cheek.  Turned out she was my first host-mother.  I was absolutely speechless.  My soon to be host-father grabbed my luggage and whisked me off to a bus.  A girl my age sat next to me and asked me questions in English and German for the three hour bus ride to the town where we would be living.  Then we took a taxi to the apartment where we would be staying — they took me to my room and I went to sleep.  I think I slept for almost two days.  I definitely had a reflective “holy shit” moment.