Describing the Indescribable

“Wow. Just wow.”

“This is so beautiful!”

“So cool.”


“Guys! Holy cow!”

These phrases, and variations of them, have been playing like a broken record since this program began. We recycle the same descriptions for every monument, ocean view, cityscape or ancient bridge we see. I myself am guilty of this. I was on FaceTime with my family the other day, and found myself responding with “it was beautiful,” “it was so cool,” and “yeah I loved it” to every question. And while I am not lying – everything I’ve seen is truly beautiful, cool and lovable – these descriptions do little to actually, well, describe. Not only does it hinder my ability to share my experiences with loved ones, but I have a feeling it will greatly impact my memories of this program in the years to come. Here are some moments that I find worth describing:

In order to both preserve my family’s sanity and my own memories, I have devised a way to quantify my experiences in a more effective way, besides picking up the nearest thesaurus and using every listed synonym of “awesome.” 

First, go find something worth sharing! If your experience is anything like mine, this first step won’t be too hard. It doesn’t have to be a stunning sight or a crazy display of culture you’re not used to; most of the memories I find myself retelling involve friends or an experience that evoked a new feeling in me. Regardless, finding this moment is the first step, and arguably the most valuable, in my process. 

Second, try to pinpoint what makes this moment unique, or worth describing. Is it the scenery? Is it the new flavors in your food? Is it a nice conversation you had or the first time you felt that your language practice paid off? Is it a new level of happiness you reached, or homesickness, or culture shock? The type of experience you’re trying to describe will alter the vocabulary you’ll use as well as the aspects of the experience you’ll focus on.

Now for the actual description, aka the hard part. I think the key is specificity. If you find something “so beautiful,” try to home in on what makes it so beautiful. For example, today I went to a river gorge at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, a small mountain town adjacent to breathtaking cliffs dropping into neon blue water. As we swam between the sheer rock faces, we reverted to our typical remarks, but I tried to stop myself. Instead of saying “this is amazing,” I went with “we are so fortunate to be able to swim in such a unique spot, in crystal clear water surrounded by cliffs.” And when I was on the phone later, talking about the friends I’ve made here, instead of saying “they’re great, I love them,” I elaborated and personalized by saying “Eleni has such a warm heart and is so kind” and “Jayme is always there to talk to me into the early morning hours.”

No, my descriptions won’t be earning me a Pulitzer prize any time soon, but I at least I’m actively describing the moments that mean something to me, that I want to remember most, those that give me an indescribable feeling. 

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