The two times that I have been the most distraught since arriving here has been over the language. My inability to understand circumstances has catapulted the cliché in over my head to new heights and demoralizing lows.
These situations mimic things that have also happened to me in Thailand. It is not difficult to remember when I didn’t understand what was expected of me and how that position made me feel. Even when you know that you can anticipate mis-communications or mishaps with language or culture, there is nothing quite like experiencing the moment in the raw.
Yesterday was my first Spanish class and I didn’t think I entered the classroom with particular expectations, but I did. I expected Beginner’s Spanish to be beginner’s Spanish. But as soon as I stepped in my classmates and the instructor started speaking in tongues, I mean en Español or castellano. She was asking questions about us and everyone, although not perfect in their speech they were able to understand, entiende, kao jai what she was asking and what everyone else was saying. As this continued I could feel tears tickle my eyes.
My other four classmates were also fellow teachers that I knew and we’re extremely helpful explaining what was going on and giving me the vocabulary I so dearly lacked. But I could hear and feel the in over my head wave wash over me, then thankfully the first hour was over and we took a break.
During those blessed five minutes, one of the teachers casually said to me, “I think she’s just assessing our abilities.” as if reading my mind, he helped me stay afloat for the moment. But like all moments, it was fleeting because when we returned the teacher gave us a worksheet.
We were to fill in the appropriate words which was no where to be found on the handout. But what did I know? The whole thing looked bigger than I could hold. My neighbor whispered, “I don’t know why she isn’t explaining this.” Then she wrote down the words we needed and tried to explain to me what each word meant.
The tears started to spill and thus began the painful trips to the bathroom while I tried to stop crying and then return to the classroom for more Spanish. During one bathroom epiphany I realized this could be a blessing in disguise. I could reclaim four hours of my week back and learn Spanish in another setting, in a situation that might suit me better.
But then the instructor asked the dreaded question, “Is something wrong?” Well, that did me in. Any tears that I had stuffed down came gushing out again. I explained through sobs that I was completely lost and how sorry I was to make everyone uncomfortable and like a pep rally crowd they replied with a resounding Noooo, but then the silence afterward would have made me laugh had I not been wiping my face because the room became awkward and quiet.
So I’d like to say to those who think what I’m doing is exciting and glamorous – living and working abroad – that traveling involves making an ass out of yourself because my ass was on big display yesterday and I know I’ll have it on display again. Possibly soon.
I won’t return to class. Not yet. But I’m not giving up. I obviously need to build up my vocabulary and work on my own until I catch up. I’m armed with Pimsleur Spanish and friends. News spreads fast and I was approached by another teacher who said, “I heard you might benefit from one on one tutoring. My girlfriend might be willing to help.” And “I have a great Spanish book I can let you borrow.” And also I was greeted with sympathetic texts and chats throughout the day.
I know, I know: what’s the big deal? It’s only Spanish class. I can’t tell you why. I’ve been feeling emotional and no, it’s not that time of the month. But I’ll tell you I take away great sympathy and empathy for students who are learning a new language and will remember this when I teach my own students. I also realized how much stress I’ve been under. Even though it is happy stress, it is still stress. I had just started to climb up the ladder of the Thai language and now I’m trying to start with Spanish; what the hell was I thinking?
And lastly I want to thank Ajarn Noi in Chiang Mai for starting at the beginning and with the basics. Kop khun ka. Rock, Lani.
p.s. The director told me today that she had heard what happened and encouraged me to return to class. That the class is designed for me (beginners) but I don’t know yet. Let me embrace today. . .