My undergraduate degree is in engineering, but, as I’ve written before, it was a mistake for me to pursue that path because my strengths have never been in the sciences, nor in mathematics. I should have listened to Papa at the age of eighteen when I was applying to universities; I should have pursued a major in the humanities.
This is not a recent conclusion for me; several years after graduating from college, I turned towards the social sciences and got my graduate degree in public policy, which was much more interesting for me. (Thankfully, I managed to apply my undergraduate degree by working in energy policy, which greatly benefits from a high degree of comfort with engineering terminology.)
I’m comfortable communicating in several languages; and language acquisition is a relative strength of mine; but my greatest stumbling block, by far, is perfectionism. I hate speaking incorrectly, but I know it’s the most effective way of gaining fluency in new languages so I force myself to speak with people in languages other than English (Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, French) whenever possible and to whatever extent I can. It can’t be said that I don’t try.
Nevertheless, as a perfectionist, I only derive deep satisfaction and pride from playing with English words. When I write poetry [and prose] in English, I feel that I am creating art – and it’s rewarding in a way that no other means of communication at my disposal can compare with.
This is significant because I do not live in an English-speaking country. Sure, lots of people in Israel speak English, but the majority does not speak it at a mother tongue level. English fluency is very, very much valued and respected in this country, but Israel operates first and foremost in Hebrew, both professionally and socially, despite it being a country with immigrants from all around the world.
Now, professionally, it’s taken me a while, but I have acclimated to a Hebrew-speaking environment, and my co-workers are happy to help out when a particular phrase or word is unfamiliar to me (I work with some very nice people).
Socially, however, as much as I am more than willing to speak awkwardly in several other languages; and as much as improving my communication skills is profoundly rewarding in its own right, I simply cannot express my most complex thoughts and deeply held opinions thoroughly enough in any language other than English… And as a perfectionist, I am constantly left feeling dissatisfied with my inability to convey the nuances of my ideas.
Unexpectedly for me at first, I have come to realize that this is one of the primary gifts I receive from the WordPress writers’ community: the freedom to express myself fully and interact with interesting people, without having to overcome the language limitations that I face in Israel.
As an ex-pat who moved abroad when he was thirty years old, far away from the society in which he grew up and came of age, blogging has been liberating for me. On the Skeptic’s Kaddish, I can readily begin discussions on whatever happens to be on my mind at any given moment, and I suffer no limitations, in terms of expressing myself on complex issues.
Ironically, I find that I am lacking the skill necessary to deeply express just how much relief I find in blogging here at WordPress.