"Learning Esperanto led me to Poland" by Russ Williams
In April of 2003, some some cow-orkers and I decided to learn a constructed language for the geek appeal. After a few days' struggle with Lojban, two of us thought, "Hmm, maybe we should look at Esperanto. It's supposedly easier to learn and has a lot more speakers." A little googling confirmed that, and led me to read about the surprising history and culture and literature of Esperanto. I realized that Esperanto was attracting me on more levels than just an interesting exercise in grammatical elegance. I felt an affinity for la interna ideo. Political events in early 2003 had me thinking about peace, tolerance, better communication, international relations, etc. I had a sense that learning Esperanto would be an important decision in my life, but little did I realize that I'd end up living in Poland because of Esperanto!
But independent of that lofty stuff, I must say that the grammatical elegance of Esperanto is definitely a cool thing. Learning how to conjugate verbs in a few minutes instead of a couple of semesters was a refreshing experience! Gaining language competence so quickly was great, since like many people I'd muddled through various language classes without really learning to speak the languages. With Esperanto, I saw clear progress, and the language is a joy to learn. In November 2003 there was a small statewide gathering of Texas Esperantists. After 7 months of learning, this was my first time to spend a whole day speaking in Esperanto, and that was an exciting milestone.
Achieving that competence gave me the confidence to go to larger gatherings in 2004, where my first serious international friendships with other Esperantists were formed. I went to the annual ELNA congress in Sidney and the UK (Universala Kongreso) in Beijing. (I'd spent 7 months beforehand trying to learn Mandarin, but in the end I only spoke it about as well as I spoke Esperanto after a few days!) My first UK was an especially intense experience, being with over 2000 Esperantists from 60 countries. Some became important friends in my life.
In 2005 I was an organizer of the ELNA congress in Austin, which was quite a valuable experience, and then spent 4 weeks at 4 different Esperanto events in Europe (KEF in Finland, UK in Lithuania, IJK in Poland, IJS in Hungary). That proved to be a life-changing trip, thanks to a chance meeting with a certain charming Polish woman during the first week of my trip, in Helsinki. Long story short: I moved to Wrocław, Poland in December 2005, and now Anna and I are living together, using Esperanto every day as our primary language. I'm learning Polish, which is much harder than Esperanto, but the experience of becoming fluent at Esperanto gives me more confidence in my language ability. (And when I get frustrated with Polish, I console myself that at least it's easier than Mandarin...)
A year earlier I would not have imagined that I would be living in Poland with an unexpectedly compatible wonderful girlfriend, speaking Esperanto every day. Yet here I am, in a new chapter of life, experiencing fascinating things I never expected. I am sure Esperanto will bring more surprises into my life, and I'm quite happy that one day in 2003 several cow-orkers and I happened to start talking about constructed languages...