It’s Monday morning at UNESCO and the building is buzzing with energy. In addition to being the International Year of Indigenous Languages (which has primarily been my area of focus since arriving), according to the United Nations, it is also the International Year of the Periodic Table. The launch of both are happening today here at UNESCO’s Headquarters, the World Heritage Center in Paris, France. And my team is covering both.
First, I got to be in the room as one of my colleagues interviewed Yuri Organessian of Russia — the scientists who discovered six of the most recent 11 chemical elements. The most recent element discovered is named Organesson after him, the second time in history that an element has ever been named after a living scientist.
The interview was conducted in Russian and I do not speak Russian, but I am still grateful to have been in the room. Everyday I have been learning more and more that journalism is not just about the questions you ask your source, but about the rhythm and the body language and the relationship you build.
After lunch I am headed to the second session of the launch event for the International Year of Indigenous Languages, where UNESCO’s Director General will speak and we will hear from academics and advocates and indigenous peoples about the preservation of so many ancient languages. I am going to be live tweeting the event.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the necessity of multilingualism. Obviously this epiphany can be attributed to
- Living in a country where I don’t speak the language
- Having roommates who are proficient in 3-4 languages
- Working in a space as diverse as UNESCO
- My focus on editing and promoting content related to indigenous languages, and better grasping the amount of culture that language holds
My dad’s first language is Spanish, and on that side of our family Spanish is the primary language, so I grew up knowing some. But we didn’t speak it at home and I would never say I am fluent. But this experience has made me wish I was. (Yes, even though I am not in a Spanish speaking country.) It has made me realize how much more of the world is accessible when you are empowered by another language.
My mom has always told me to make the choices that will give me the most choices. And so I am choosing (and hereby publicly promising) to work on my Spanish. I have instructed all my Spanish speaking friends (in Paris and at home) to speak to me only in Spanish, I have changed my primary language on my phone to Spanish
Journalistically speaking, I have been thinking about how much more accessible my goals of reporting on immigration will be when I have a better grasp on the Spanish language. This is exciting and motivating. I have been practicing so much that last night I had a dream in Spanish. (This feels like a big accomplishment.)
Dance class continues to be a highlight of my time in Paris, and even more so the wonderful friendships I am developing with the other girls in the class.(We took a video of our routine this week but I have decided that at my current skill level, it is best that that is only circulated within my family group chat!) This weekend we will all go to the “All Europe Waacking Festival” which I understand to be a dance battle in a niche style of hip hop… In other words, I continue to surprise myself.
I have officially been away from home for longer than I ever have before and mostly I am doing well. I miss being in the same hemisphere as my friends and family, and knowing they will be awake if I call them to chat or tell a funny story on my lunch break. I miss singing in the car. I miss drip coffee. I miss Mexican food and my cat (best friend) Franny.
Please send burritos. And if you can’t, please make recommendations for my “Jams For The Commute” playlist.
Olivia R. Sanchez is a journalist and M.S. candidate at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @OliviaRSanchez.