The German writer, Thomas Mann, having escaped fascism in 1933, wrote that he was "too much of a good German and too much linked to the cultural traditions and to the language of [his] country," (1) to be able to accept the idea of his exile without feeling extremely apprehensive.
Let me ask an interesting question. What language do you dream in? If you speak more than one language, which one is your mind's default setting in the unconsciousness of sleep? When we dream, we are the creators of our own imaginary world. In that ideal setting, the language you speak is the one you connect with most. I came to notice after some years of living in Kenya that although I spoke Swahili with the locals and was still learning English, when I took refuge in sleep, I dreamed in my native tongue, Kinyarwanda. I also remember that whenever my siblings and I got into trouble, my mom would, like a fine-tuned radio, switch to our mother tongue when berating us. Research into language learning reveals that people think most critically in their native language.
Today, there are 65.3 million displaced people in the world. These people have found themselves in a situation that could be of no one's choosing. No one is further from home than they are, walking on foreign soil inhabited by foreign people who speak a foreign language. They have put aside their native tongue and taken up another for survival. When you look up the word "apprehensive" in the dictionary, the synonyms that come up are alarmed, worried, stressed, scared and terrified. Google defines "apprehensive" as "being anxious or fearful that something bad or unpleasant will happen". Our world's displaced people are certainly feeling apprehensive about their present and their future.
When Thomas Mann realized that he was not able to return home, he knew that change was afoot. He understood that he would have to fit into another context, another culture and another language. The thought of abandoning all that he knew terrified him. He could not fathom how he would be able to walk away from his culture and betray his language.
The biggest challenge for refugees is one that most people do not stop to think of. The level of change that these forgotten multitudes have to endure is astounding. Being strong is not a choice. They cannot orient themselves to where they are because their trip was never planned in the first place. There is no prophylaxis for the culture shock. You don't carry with you the...