I never imagined how challenging it would be to move to a country where you didn’t speak a single word of their language. That’s what happened to me when I moved to Nepal when I was eight-years-old. It was the spring of 1998 and I was disembarking the plane to find myself in this strange new world. As I got into the airport terminal, I realized how helpless I was, not being able to comprehend anything that I was asked of, by the airport security. People had a completely different tone of language and the way they pronounced words sounded completely unique from what people used in Russia. I grew increasingly perplexed as I was asked to fill out certain forms and show appropriate documentation regarding my entrance in Nepal. I had barely started learning proper Russian in school and here I was, miles away expected to write in something that looked like complete gibberish to me. I was completely lost.

The first couple of months were the toughest. I had to use sign language and my limited knowledge of the English language, to converse with my relatives. My dad acted as the mediator, interpreting the language whenever I needed help communicating. I was really shy in front of new people, after all it was their country and I felt like a total foreigner. The surroundings, people, culture and traditions seemed all new and mysterious to me. It took me a while before I grew confident of myself to go out of the house on my own. But, as time passed, I started hanging out more and more with Nepali people and  the language started to gradually take a grip on me. I made new friends and my dad got me a tutor who helped me learn the alphabet and other basics. By the third month, it was possible for me to hold a conversation for at least a couple of minutes before being asked something I would have never heard before.

My biggest challenge arrived when my dad decided that I was ready to go to school. I still remember my first day of school in Nepal. My dad dropped me off in this class full of Nepali kids with me being the only white kid there. Everyone just stared at me in amusement when I spoke to them in inadequate Nepali. They asked me why I had brown hair and a fair complexion, and how I learnt to speak Nepali and where I was from. As they watched in bewilderment, I clarified, that I had moved to Nepal from Russia and that I was half Nepali and half Russian by blood and that I apparently received most of my genes from my mother.

I told them that I learnt to speak in Nepali during the past six months after I moved there. Most of the kids in my class were friendly, welcoming a foreign looking kid into one of their groups, however there were some who called me a “Khaire” which basically means a white kid and did not seem too pleased of having me in their class. Although I felt alienated by that at first, eventually I got to know everyone in my class and befriended them. My unique appearance actually made me quite popular in school. I was easy to spot out in the crowd  and people would gossip about the new foreign kid in school which made me feel special in a way. The word “Khaire”, stuck as a nickname and till this day people still call me that, but I don’t feel estranged anymore. After all, its a fact: I am indeed a white kid with brown hair.

As I went up through grades, my Nepali got better. By the time I was in my 5th grade, I didn’t have an accent at all and I spoke as fluently as a kid of my age would speak. I was able to read Nepali books by myself and was actually starting to enjoy them. My scores in the language gradually improved as well.

Since there was no one to speak Russian to, I didn’t use Russian at all anymore. I noticed that everyday, I would remember less and less of the language, until one day, I couldn’t even remember a word for a simple object as a cat or a house. The language got lost in my head somewhere, hidden in a box of memories.

Losing my mother language is the only one thing in my life that I am not proud of. Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. This turned out even more true in my case when I visited Russia over my winter break. They don’t use much English in Russia and whatever English is used there is very inadequate to go around with. The place I once called home felt as if I was an Earthling stranded on another planet. I had a tough time getting around Moscow with my limited Russian. Once again I had to use my dad’s assistance as I did as a kid. Its like everything was happening all over again. I have had a personal experience of understanding how language plays an important part in a person’s identity and a representation of him or herself. Language has always been and always will be the greatest creation of mankind.