I don’t know how many of you have read War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, but if you haven’t, I’m about to spoil the ending for you now. You’ve been warned.
Basically, Earth is attacked by Martians who are technologically superior, but in the end all die from disease. I like the 2005 movie’s interpretation of this ending; despite people thinking of ourselves as something outside and separate from nature, we’re actually a part of it. We’ve earned a place in the world and our immune systems are one of many tributes to that fact.
I started thinking about this when I went to Germany the other week. It brought back memories of living in there in 2006. Back then, the city I lived in didn’t really have a huge English speaking population (outside the university), so I forced myself to learn German. The process was hard and painful, but by the end of it, it was amazing. When they spoke English, they might say “stay on the train,” but in German it would be “Sir, would you mind staying on the train? We’re actually about to perform some maintenance at the next stop, wouldn’t want you to get stuck out there.”
Obviously, I’m not German, but despite that I feel incredibly connected and at ease with the German people. It was only this time while visiting that I realized it was because I’d earned it. I spent the better part of a year discovering the language and customs and my reward was this sense of familiarity and comfort I had while being there; it was my immune system.
I’ve been taking intensive Danish courses here: 3½ hours a day, 3 days a week, with about 3 hours of homework/studying per session. I have some fun and interesting classmates, some of whom have been helping to show me the ropes as a foreigner. It also turns out that if/when my immigration stuff gets settled, the government might pay for the courses. Even though it’s currently out-of-pocket, and insanely expensive, I can’t help but think it’s worth it. If I’m really going to be living out here, I want to get to that point where I can understand people. Not just their language, but their culture and thoughts and all the little wonderful nuances that go with it.
I also know it won’t be easy compared to German. This language is littered with false cognates, glottal stops, and seemingly random vocabulary (compare the German word for “the Earth” die Erde with the Danish Jorden) but I like to think that the deeper cultural insights I’ll get will be worthwhile and make me better and a more well-rounded “global citizen”.