You Don’t Have To Speak To Be Heard

“Everyone smiles in the same language.”

— Author Unknown

The language of smiles often speaks more eloquently than words.

Mariana, from Spain.

One month ago we welcomed Mariana –  a kind, quiet and ever-smiling exchange student from Madrid, Spain. Together, she and our family have had some adventures. From the breathtaking top of Multnomah Falls, to the yawning maw of Mt. St. Helens; from the quirky Portland Saturday Market to the living history of Astoria, oldest town west of the Rockies, we experienced and re-experienced a little piece of the Pacific Northwest.

We lit off fireworks, watched a medieval jousting match, and picnicked on rocks in a stream. We climbed a tall tower, sweated our way up a trail, and sank our teeth into freshly picked berries. We smelled the roses, played tag in the park, enjoyed board games around the table, and shared new foods together.

One thing we didn’t do, though, was talk a lot.  I would imagine that Mariana will admit she’s not a big talker. Even in her native Spanish, she doesn’t speak a lot. She isn’t a Chatty Cathy and wasn’t blessed with the gift of gab or a silver tongue. Couple that with a language barrier and speaking was a challenge. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t communicate.

We know she’s good at playing the piano. She was brave enough to not hide in her bedroom, and liked the movie Brave. She enjoyed the fireworks on the fourth of July and found a firecracker in a pocket of the pants she flew in to America, much to the TSA’s chagrin if they had known. We learned that there are 5 meals a day in Spain with lunch being the largest and that a typical Spaniard’s eating habits are anything but typical. She liked to experience new things and travel. She loves her iPod, but learned to put it down. We also know she’s patient because she could tolerate us.

A month ago, our first few conversations were short, direct, often filled with ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know.’  But with persistence, practice, points, smiles, laughs, gestures, and pantomimes Mariana worked hard and improved her English. By her last few days with us she was able to hold short discussions in English which bodes well for her future.

In spite of the oral barrier, we communicated. One person to another. One nation to another.

Last night, we celebrated her upcoming birthday over dinner at a her favorite Mexican restaurant and gave her a few small gifts, memories of our new friendship. Then we drove to the airport where we dropped her off with her traveling group for her return trip to Spain. There were hugs, well wishes, and smiles.

Then, as it is with every exchange student, there is – that time. The time when there’s only one word left to say.


Goodbye, Mariana. We heard you. Thank you for coming to America and communicating with us in so many different ways.

Especially with your smile.

Yesterday’s, and the past month’s, gift of time … Hosted Mariana from Spain and learned about being heard without speaking.

About Eric Winger

Our perception of time is key to how we use our time. The most fundamental way to change that perception is to give our time. This opens us up to new opportunities and ideas from which we can build to really make a difference. ... Yes, we *do* have time to make a difference!
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