It is 11:30 p.m. and I have only spoken 30 minutes of English today (solely because I had to because of a partner language exchange I am participating in). I had four classes today, ranging from international crime law to the sociology of sleep. In between classes, I attempted to compare solutions to some linear algebra problems with fellow students.
All of this occurred in German and I'd be lying if I said my brain doesn't hurt a little bit.
As many of you know, I am currently studying abroad in Marburg, Germany, after I spent two months in Vienna. To be honest, my life in Vienna was lived somewhat in a bubble. Because I was at a language institute and not a university, after my German course each day, I was free to do what I pleased, which for me, meant exploring the city with the three other Americans in my program, speaking English.
In Marburg, things are different. I am living in a castle (had to just slide that in there, didn't I?), with a German roommate and other German hall mates. Like I said earlier, I am taking classes entirely in German. Most days now, the first and last words I utter are in German. Are they perfectly pronounced and spoken? Not necessarily. But I am trying all the same.
The two words that come to mind in encapsulating my language learning experience in Marburg so far are humility and courage.
I have been learning German my whole life. The quick version of the spiel I always give is that my mother studied German in college and I grew up speaking it at home, while also attending language school on the weekends. I'd like to say that I'm fluent, at least conversationally, and there are days where I can confidently say I feel I am. Other days, I think about how I may never be able to express myself in German to the extent which I can express myself in English and I have to remind myself that it is okay.
It is humbling to not know everything, particularly when it comes to the language that is spoken in the environment you are in. How so?
Being in a space where you are a foreign speaker reminds you just how much there is to learn, how you don't know everything, and how every day, you can grow.
Being a foreign speaker means losing your way sometimes, it means trusting that those around you will help you. It means you might not always have complete control over your surroundings due to the language barrier, which, for those who know me, know puts me out of my comfort zone.
The humility takes shape not only from the foreign environment, but from the alienation that can come when spending time with people who understand each other perfectly, while you attempt to translate every word that is spoken. Is it sometimes frustrating to be surrounded by my roommates speaking in German at the speed of light and not contributing anything because by the time you process everything they have moved on to the next topic? Absolutely.
And this is where the courage comes in.
While humility comes about from the vulnerability of being a foreigner in an environment, courage comes about from one's inner strength to keep pushing forward anyway.
I must admit, I'm sometimes scared to practice my German, particularly around those whose mother tongue it is. Still, you have to just start speaking, even if it means making a few (or dozens) of mistakes along the way. I promise you'll learn as you go and I promise that people will appreciate your efforts. Am I still beyond nervous to present in my international crime law class next week? Of course I am.
I've learned you can't let the fear of other people's judgement stop you from taking risks, from growing in this new environment.
It's going to be scary sometimes and you are by no means going to do everything perfectly, but you can choose to do it anyway. So start speaking, even if it means adding a side comment a minute too late or making a joke with a grammatical error. Every bit counts.
Yes, I made the introduction to this article dramatic describing how little English I've spoken in the past day, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I came here to immerse myself in a language that means so much to me. I am grateful for the humility and courage I have gained and continue to gain in the process.
Here's to two more months of endless humility and courage.