One of the reasons to love traveling is the opportunity learn – about new cultures, languages and about yourself. You don’t even have to leave your country to be exposed to a different way of life. Moving successfully between cultures, whether locally or far away, requires one thing more than anything else – a desire to bridge communication gaps.

Having come back from a spring and summer full of travel, both domestic and international, one thing is clear – there are many ways to communicate and connect with the people around you. I was thinking about this a whole lot on a recent trip to my home country.

Gothenburg, the town I go to each summer, is the host of a huge international youth soccer tournament. Every year, teams of all ages, and from all over the world gather in this Swedish town of some 600 000 inhabitants. For about a week, there are soccer teams everywhere and as they try to navigate the town’s trams and busses, as they work to win matches or try to connect with fellow players and fans, you get a pretty good view of the methods we use to communicate – gesturing, pointing, singing, drawing, and of course, various combinations of languages.

There was the coach who, frustrated by a delay of game, started gesturing and pointing to her watch, upon which the ref nodded and held up several fingers to assure her additional time would be added. There were the teams on my tram who started singing their respective cheers, having a conversation of sorts.There were the many interactions regarding directions and transportation that took place between helpful locals and the visitors who felt lost.

All of this “communication by any method necessary” made me think about my nephew. He is adopted from China and when he came to Sweden at the age of two and a half, he spoke no Swedish and my sister no Cantonese, other than some basic phrases she had learned. It was amazing to see them then – how they communicated with gestures, pictures and word repetition. It wasn’t easy and there were many frustrating moments. When one thing didn’t work, they had to try something different. It’s amazing to see him now, a couple of years later, nearly fluent, communicating at will, and with a burgeoning local accent.

Somehow, these thoughts of communication and how we make ourselves understood landed me in the land of emojis. I have never really liked them as a replacement for actual text and have hardly ever used them. I’ve thought of them as annoying and a lazy replacement for the real deal – the written word. Lately however, I have started seeing the power of the emoji.

I find myself enjoying them – after all, how can you not be happy when your kid sends you three red hearts? How can you not smile when your mother-in-law, out of the blue, wishes you a good day with pictures of a flower and a book. I can see how emojis serve a purpose and aid in communication. There is no doubt what the meaning of the red heart is, or a thumbs up, or a smiley face. I may be old school and feel like writing it out somehow packs a bigger punch, but I am not so sure I’m right – as the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

By: Felicia Shermis

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