Juliana, outbound to Faroe Islands

(Before we start, I’d like to mention that there was an error in my last journal: I said Runavík was two and a half hours from Tórshavn, when it’s actually only one hour. My host parents had a good laugh when they read it, because apparently driving two and a half hours in the Faroes without turning around would require you to drive into the ocean. Seriously, you can make a tour of the whole country into a day-trip.)

One day, I was unexpectedly called to the school counselor’s office. I sat down in the guest chair, wondering what I could have done wrong, when the counselor in charge of the exchange students, Annie, turned to me and said something that immediately made my brain go numb:

“The principal would like you to do some presentations about yourself and your experiences as an American in the Faroe Islands.”

“… What?”

“It won’t be difficult, as they’ll only be fifteen minutes long and the subject will be one you’re familiar with,” explained Annie. “And you’ve done presentations before, right? This would be a good experience for you.”

“… What?”

“Will you do it?”

“Wh— Uh, I’m not sure,” I said, putting my hands up to my face. Just the thought of having to talk about myself to a group of people as if I was actually someone important was horribly embarrassing.

“Who would my audience be?” I asked. “My classmates, or Rotary, or…?”

“I don’t have the details yet,” said Annie. “I’ll have to ask the principal. But the group could be anyone from your class to the entire school. Maybe both.”

“Both?” I echoed, my mind reeling from hearing the words “entire school.” “How many presentations would I be doing?”

“Hmm. Four to six, maybe?”

“What.”

“Yeah, the principal was thinking maybe you could go to different schools to do the presentation as well.”

“WHAT.”

“You’ll do it, right?”

I could already feel my stomach churning with anxiety. I knew I definitely should say yes, but I was insanely worried. What if I mess up? What if I say something wrong? What if my audience correctly surmises that I’m actually terribly boring under my flashy, exchange-student exterior?

I told Annie I’d think about it and maybe ask some Faroese people what they might like to hear. She took me to talk to my Social Science teacher, who encouraged me to ask my classmates for topics to discuss. So I went back to my classroom and asked for some general ideas, which spontaneously erupted into a brainstorming session that turned the entire Social Science block into a Q&A session. My classmates asked questions ranging from my everyday schedule in the US to how the welfare system works to how to earn a scholarship at an American university. I collected a sizable number of topics to cover and took them home to look over, then decided the presentation was doable and called Annie to tell her I would do it. And then I became sick, forcing all thoughts of the presentations out of my foggy, congested head.

On Monday of the next week, I went back to Annie’s office to ask her for some advice on how to organize the topics I’d accumulated. I met her in the hall, and as we walked to her office, she asked, “Have you finished writing your presentation yet?”

“Well, I was sick, so I didn’t have much time,” I explained, stepping into her office and setting my backpack down. “I’ve got a rough outline. I’ll have it finished soon.”

“You’ve been asked to make your presentation at a middle school tomorrow morning at 10am.”

I dropped down into the chair next to her desk, my face contorted with horror. “Already?”

Annie seemed amused. “Oh my, it seems every time you come in here, you get the shock treatment.”

So I went home and got to work, blearily glaring between my written outline and my computer keyboard for five hours until my brain broke down.

The next morning, I got to the middle school early and was introduced to the teacher who had requested me to present to his class. He led me into the biology room, followed by twenty or thirty of his sixteen-year-old students. They slowly filled up the seats, some even sitting on the counters. After they all had their butts on a surface, they turned to stare at me questioningly.

The teacher told me “go ahead” in Faroese, and so I began.

—I’m not going to include my presentation notes in this journal, since they kind of suck—

It went off without a hitch. I didn’t mess up or have to take a prolonged break to find my place or any of the other things I was worrying I’d do, and the students were a great audience; they all watched and listened intently, laughing and sounding astonished at all the right points, seeming genuinely interested. I was touched by their prolonged control of their attention spans.

There were only two questions, both from the same boy: “Do you like Faroese food?” and “Have you gotten used to using metric yet?” To the former I said yes, most definitely, and to the latter I gave a flat “no.”

I’ve done one more so far; I presented to Annie’s psychology class, which was almost entirely composed of people from my class. Since they were the ones who helped me put the presentation together in the first place, it was kind of awkward, but they politely pretended they hadn’t already heard exactly everything I was saying, so it was fine.

Even though I was able to do these presentations without any problems, the stage fright never went away. I never stopped being scared. Annie congratulated me after my first presentation and told me I had sounded like I’d done public speaking my entire life. But even though I’ve developed this skill thanks to college group presentations and Rotary, that awkward, shy feeling is rooted deep within my gut like a century-old tree. That shyness is probably an integral part of my personality, and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it without uprooting everything else my personality comes from. Still, forcing myself to accept the responsibility of presenting has taught me how to overcome however I’m feeling so I can accomplish what I need to do. I started building that skill up since before I even started with Rotary. It probably started when I had to stand up in front of my ASL class in college and fumble out my name, age, and what kind of act I’d do if I worked in a circus. I’m not kidding; I really was asked to explain that. IN SIGN LANGUAGE. I chose “unicyclist,” by the way, and since I didn’t know the sign for unicycle, I made this really awkward gesture— Wait, I’m getting off topic.

In the end, I’m glad I chose to do the presentations. I haven’t received any more requests for my presentation as of this writing, but I hope that if I do, it will also go smoothly.

Maybe I’m one of few in this, but I’ve always understood foreign phrases better if I could hear them said literally. For example, in sign language, you could say, “I went to the mall,” but literally you would be signing BEFORE MALL ME GO. For me, seeing the literal translation makes it easier for me to remember, rather than just seeing a bunch of hand signals and being told it means, “I went to the mall.”

So that’s why it makes me kind of irritated that Memrise — the website I’m using to learn Faroese — had the phrase, “Eg havi tað illa,” and just put the meaning as, “I’m bad.” Okay, yes, that’s the connotation — you say it when someone asks you how you’re doing and you’re not doing so well — but LITERALLY it means, “I have it bad.” If you had put THAT as the translation instead of just, “I’m bad,” I probably would have been able to remember it when I was quizzed later. Whoever made the Faroese course on Memrise did this numerous times; the Faroese word for “because” is “tí,” and then it has “av tí at” marked as meaning “because” or “if,” while just “if” is “vissi,” and WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY FRAGILE BRAIN.

I don’t know. Is it just me?

Journals are hard to write. They usually stay on my computer for months as I slowly find things to talk about, but I’ve made a vow to write them more often, even if they’re short. So for this journal, I have everything I’ve written above and… what else?

Hm. I didn’t want the journal to be this short. I can’t think of more things to say. I guess this is a good sign, if it means that I’ve become so integrated that everything I do feels like a regular part of my normal, everyday life. …’Cause that’d be pretty cool.

…It’s probably that I’m just scatter-brained. Oh well.

Hmm. I guess I could talk about how I’m now able to go on the class trip to Paris with my classmates, but since that’s happening in March and all my knowledge of France comes exclusively from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ratatouille, I don’t have much to say on that front besides, “I’m excited for it.” I COULD talk — at serious length — about all the trouble my teachers and I are going through to arrange for me to tag along this late in the planning stage, but I really only want to give the advice of, “Make absolutely sure you have your visa info filed with the Danish embassy early on in your exchange, or else you might just transmogrify into an alien of the most illegal variety.” Luckily, I was able to narrowly avoid this happening, since my counselor came to me some months ago and was like, “Yo, Denmark doesn’t even know you’re here.” She didn’t actually say “yo ,” but my brain automatically 90’s-ifies my memories. I need to get that checked out at some point.

Anyway, I thought the info had been filed before I left and it hadn’t been. So, yeah, always double-check that stuff.

Should I talk about Faroese people? Like, should I encourage you to read this journal in Morgan Freeman’s voice as I tell you random facts? That would be educational for all of us, since it’s been scientifically proven that hearing facts in Morgan Freeman’s voice makes you 20% smarter. (Not really, but only because science hasn’t proven it yet. Come on, science!)

~Facts about Faroese people~ (Cue Freeman narration)

1. If you ask a Faroese person how their day went, they will describe it to you in minute detail. If a Faroese person asks you how your day was and you only say, “Not that good,” they’ll say, “Okay,” and then ask you four hours or more later why your day was bad, because they’ll have been waiting all that time for you to come forth with that information yourself.

2. Wearing sunglasses indoors in the US makes people think you’re a tool. Wearing sunglasses at all in the Faroe Islands makes people think you’re hungover. Why else would you be wearing shades when the word “sunlight” has long since become only a fond memory?

3. Faroese people are so mystical and magical, even Danish people don’t know that they exist, let alone that their country technically owns them.

4. Faroese teens have a “tradition” of taking screenshots of the embarrassing Snapchats you send them and then posting them on your Facebook wall on your birthday. That picture you took of you making a quadruple-chin that you sent to them with the timer set to two seconds? Oh yes, they screencapped it, and you’ll be seeing it again. And so will all your Facebook friends. Happy Birthday, sucker.

5. Faroese people eat three of what the average American would call a “light snack” a day. I have no idea how these people stay alive.

6. Faroese children are inherently hardcore. There’s a kindergarten near my house that has a playground built in tiers along the side of a hill next to a ravine filled with sharp rocks. Do you think there’s a fence providing a barrier between the five-year-olds and the sharp rocks? Oh, and what, have those kids grow up to be wimps? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

7. Faroese people don’t use umbrellas, because if they did, the wind would carry them away like Mary Poppins.

8. You may think you’re being ignored by your Faroese friends, but you’re not. They’re always watching. Listening.

Waiting.


…for you to find out what they were really thinking. This will usually be two months after the fact, and you will find out from their sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s friend’s babysitter.

~These have been true facts about Faroese people~ (End Freeman narration. …Or don’t, I’m not judging. I like this voice too.)

Hm, what else… How about I talk about my feelings? Well, THAT would be fun for 100% of nobody. If I were to stick to the positive, I’d be able to say, “Yeah, I’m happy; my family and friends are nice, the food’s good, there’re pretty mountains and stuff, so life’s pretty grand right now, yeah,” since those things alone are enough to content me. If I were to focus on the negative instead, it’d probably just be something dumb like, “I HAVE A GIANT ‘NOTHING’ IN MY HEART BAAAWWW” or something equally melodramatic and unimportant.

(Yes, I do indeed read my old journal entries and think, “Did I seriously write this twaddle?”)

Huh.

I guess I’ll write more for you guys after the Paris trip. Síggjast!

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I have had the following conversation at least four times since arriving here:

“Hvussu eitur tú?”

“Eg eiti Juliana. Eg eri ein skiftisnæmingur frá Amerika.”

“Oh, it’s nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About half a year.”

“Oh, cool! Yeah… So… Do you have a Faroese boyfriend yet?”

“…What?”

I guess the Faroese take their “men outnumbering women” problem very seriously.