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Read about Gracen Rubo discussing the communication errors that can occur as she interns through the Eric Liddell Centre program in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Different Forms of Language

I am hyperaware of my American-ness. It’s a strange feeling to feel so out of place in a country that apparently speaks your own language. Yet here in Scotland, the language takes on a different form. Sentences come out in thick rolling waves speckled with words that no matter how many times I ask you to repeat, I will never fully comprehend. When I first arrived, I may have panicked realizing I had moved to a place where I couldn’t actually understand a word anyone was saying. Asking people to repeat the simplest of sentences seemed to only strengthen the ditzy female American stereotype preceding me. Of course I doubt it did, but my jet lagged, insecure, lonely self sure thought it did at the beginning.

I came into the culture completely underestimating how language would play such a big role in my experience here. At the beginning, I thought my accent and my phrases would isolate me. However, I’ve learned that the differences between my English and Scottish English can act as a way for me to connect to the community.  

There was one instance in particular where my language difference served as both a barrier and an opportunity for connection. I had just met an older, very traditional and conservative Scottish woman at my internship site. I really liked the pair of white linen pants she was wearing, so I said to her, “Hey, I love your pants. They’re really cute.” She spun around and gave me a look of terror and disgust. There was this awkward moment when I wasn’t sure what to say. Then I remembered that here, people use the term “pants” to describe underwear. I think she thought her white pants were see-through, and I was using my not-so-funny American humor to call her out. As soon as I realized this I began apologizing profusely and explaining myself. In the end, we ended up laughing and having a really nice conversation about where I was from and the traveling she had done throughout her life.

Moving to Scotland and dealing with the daily struggle of understanding an English different from my own has taught me two very important things. First, communication is key to succeeding in the workplace and establishing roots in the community. And secondly, it’s okay to make mistakes. People are forgiving, and more often than not, those mistakes are a chance to learn about the culture you’re in and about the beautiful strangers around you.