Fighting indifference and fear on World Refugee Day

Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a day to pause and recognize the courage and determination shown by the 65.6 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, war, or persecution.

But also, it’s a day to fight against indifference and fear.

In his statement today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, acknowledged these unfortunately common sentiments, saying that political upheaval and violence near our borders makes us want to “shut our eyes or close our doors.”

It’s easy to turn off the news and ignore what’s happening to millions of people around the globe. Or “wash our hands” of responsibility because the problem seems too big. But let’s not do that today.

Grandi called on all of us to take a moment while remembering the millions who cannot return to their homes to ask ourselves how we can become more inclusive, welcoming, and aware.

We can overcome indifference and fear. In honor of World Refugee Day, here are three small ways to do it.

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Ten ways a second language can make you look like an idiot

ways a second language can make you look like an idiot

In season six of Modern Family, crotchety old Jay and his Colombian wife, Gloria, are arguing over her son’s Spanish tutor. When it brings up a bigger issue—that Jay doesn’t understand how hard it is to always speak in a second language—Gloria snaps that she is very smart in Spanish. Seeing her point, Jay decides to give lessons a try. Later, when he apologizes to her (in Spanish), she hugs him and laughingly says, “Oh Jay how I love it, now you sound like the stupid one!”

I wish this wasn’t so right! Until you’re fluent, some of your personality and smarts are unavoidably lost in translation. There are just too many opportunities to look like an idiot.

Keep reading for ten tongue-in-cheek ways that learning a second language does you no favors.

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The lies you tell yourself before moving abroad


When I tell people I live abroad, I know exactly what’s coming: a whimsical look in their eyes, a sigh, and something along the lines of oh that must be so nice…

I can’t deny that—our time living in Colombia has been incredible. But, it’s been a lot of other things too. Most people form their romanticized ideas of life abroad from pop culture and movies, where after you’re run off the road riding your bicycle in Ubud, Javier Bardem stops to rescue you and you tumble into mad, passionate, ’til-death-do-us-part love.

I drank the living abroad kool-aid too, thinking life in Bogotá would be an endless loop of idyllic experiences: days full of museums, coffee in quiet cafes, roaming outdoor markets. Even disasters—and they were always mild—would end up as quirky stories of how I made new friends or had some authentic (what does that even mean?) experience. I had no problem imagining us happy in our new life but, like all good daydreams, I skipped over the kinks to get right to the good part.

Read on for some of the lies I told myself before moving abroad.

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Why no one needs Narcos

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the new Netflix series, Narcos

A couple of months ago I was walking home and saw an ad for a new TV show at a bus stop: white powder formed an outline of South America, a breeze just beginning to scatter the dust. Narcosa new drama which chronicles drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s violent rise and years in power, was now available on Netflix and apparently Colombia was a target audience.

I’ve made no secret of the misconceptions I had of Colombia before we moved to Bogotá—misconceptions that are still common because each time I tell someone from the U.S. that I live in Colombia, it isn’t long until a reference or question about the C word tumbles out. Generally, this is quickly followed by some expression of concern for my safety. Colombia has moved beyond its notoriety for drugs and violence. When will the rest of us?

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Learning Spanish, Part I: How it feels

learning spanish

Learning a new language has given me a brand new compassion for screaming babies on airplanes. Of course they’re crying, it’s frustrating to want to get your point across but not have the words to do it. After six months of classes and a year of being immersed in the Spanish language, I’d say that I’m conversational but still far from fluent. In fact, the more I venture out conversationally, the more I realize I don’t have the words I need to articulate myself.

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but there are so many misconceptions about how easy it is to learn a new language. If you think that you speak Spanish because you took a few classes in college and did great with your slowly speaking professor in the hallway during an oral exam, you’re mistaken. Another misconception is that a module or two here and there with a language software program is enough to set you on the path to fluency. Sorry, that isn’t too realistic either.

Learning Spanish over this past year has been an emotional experience just as much as it has been mental. That said, this post about learning a new language is coming to you in two parts. Today, it’s all about the emotional speed bumps that caught me by surprise.

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Recommended Read: Travel as a Political Act

Travel as a Political Act

We all know of Rick Steves from his PBS shows or travel guides (and don’t forget those ubiquitous khaki pants). Dorky or not, I love his books and when Cody and I first dipped our toes in the travel pool Rick was our guide.

A couple of years ago I read his book Travel as a Political Act and it showed me how there is so much more to traveling than art and eating. Consciously experiencing different cultures challenges you to examine your beliefs and helps you become a more well-rounded person.

Reading the book again while on vacation over the holidays, I saw it’s value from a different perspective. It helped me better understand my current feelings toward my home country and as an expat myself, I think would be a great resource for those facing the same life change.

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