by Myrtis Smith
There is one reason I attended the USA Esperanto Congress: my airline ticket was nonrefundable.
Four months earlier, I had finished the Duolingo course. I was working my way through the Lernu course, actively participating in the Duolingo Esperanto Facebook group and trying to read Gerda Malaperis. In my excitement of being a blossoming Esperantist I impulsively registered for the Congress and booked a flight.
As I made the 30-minute trek to the airport, I apprehensively thought, what have I gotten myself into?
The only people I “knew” in the Esperanto world were people from the Facebook group. I had never attended an Esperanto event. The only Esperanto I had actually spoken were random sentences with a tutor.
I approached the conference with a mixture of dread, fear, and insecurity. In the end, attending was one of the most interesting things I’ve done in a long time. I’m so happy I went.
I learned Esperantists are a diverse, highly intelligent, and extremely welcoming group. I met people from all walks of life and from different parts of the country. People with doctorate degrees, people who’ve traveled extensively, engineers, teachers, lawyers, college students… coming together for the purpose of not just bettering themselves but bettering the world.
It was the first time I truly recognized that Esperanto is not just about learning a language for the sake of learning a language. Esperanto is a movement. Through Esperanto we have a chance to change the world by breaking down the language barrier.
The fact that I didn’t know anyone contributed to half of my reluctance to attend. Having limited experience in Esperanto conversation was the other half of the problem. Like most newbies I was comfortable reading Esperanto and I could follow 40% – 60% of the spoken word. But I struggled miserably when it came time to put my own thoughts into words. I assumed I would spend most of the conference smiling and nodding in silence. I was wrong.
The first day most people only asked basic questions that were easy to answer. As I spent time listening to the conversation it became easier to participate. People were always willing to stop and explain things. No one seemed to mind that I spoke slowly, constantly searching for the right words, verb tense or correlative. “Kiel oni diras…” worked for everything else.
The sessions were a little more challenging. While there were a few options targeted for beginners, the rest of the sessions were completely in Esperanto. It was difficult to truly appreciate what the speaker was saying when you’re only picking up about half of the words. Fortunately, at mealtime someone would ask (in English) “did you understand what he was talking about?”
And much to my surprise, there was a lot of English spoken. I know some people would view that as a negative (after all, you are there to use your Esperanto). The conversations in English gave me an opportunity to really get to know people, find common interests, and learn about their experience with Esperanto. The English conversations were equally an important part of my conference experience.
I’m grateful my plane ticket was nonrefundable. I met so many interesting people. I feel energized about starting a local club. And… I can’t wait for next year’s conference in Seattle!