Friday, July 23, 2010

Breaking Barriers

Two days ago, I hit a wall. It was the barrier between me and understanding. Usually, I'm not bothered by people not understanding what I say because this is a natural burden of any traveler. I graciously say "Merci beaucoup" and leave whats lost in translation for the language gods to handle. But this was not an instance where this could be done. I hit this wall in a place where the wall shouldn't exist, in my intensive French class. This is the place that should be a sanctuary of understanding, for this is where I am supposed to learn to do so. Unfortunately, I don't feel like I learn anything new or exciting in class, I mostly work on my listening skills and use context clues to understand my instructors. Honestly, people in the streets of Lyon have taught me much more.

On this particular day, I was attempting to share un grande mensonge (an exaggerated lie) that we were assigned to write for an assignment. I began to share my mensonge, while he wrote it on the board, and then came the dreaded word..."choeur" (chorus). At my first attempt to pronounce the word my instructor, Eddy, made a funny face. During my second & slower attempt to sound it out, I got a more bizarre look than the first. Then I went straight for the context clues "un groupe des chanters" (a group of singers) I said, hoping he could piece together the clues for the word, which I continuously tried to sound out between saying, singer, songs, groups, gospel, etc. in French, and this time adding hand gestures (because those always work...NOT!) By this point I had asked a fellow classmate, who is more advanced, for help and she tried to help clarify. Eddy had began writing different words that he thought I could be saying on the bored, all of which were out in left field, and he began to laugh. A wave of shame, embarrassment, and pure confusion came over me and I just gave up, something I seldom do in any classroom. In defeat, my frustrations came poring out of my flushed face.

This is when I realized that I was beside myself. There I sat, in a classroom of about 20 students crying. I never considered myself the "woe is me" kind of girl, and I could assume that everyone was frustrated in one way or another, but I was the only one crying about it. Why? For the first five minutes I thought, "This is what I get for putting myself on the chopping block, I shouldn't have raised my hand." But the little people of reason came to the rescue and quickly expelled this thought. I will forever be a student of the universe and at least try. For the next five minutes, I blamed Eddy. "He should have tried harder to understand me." I thought. Then the little people of reason made a U-turn, clearly there work wasn't done. I couldn't blame Eddy. He probably finds it just as difficult to understand my "franglaise" (my mix of French and English when I can find certain words in French) So what is to blame for this tragic moment? This is where I'm supposed to stumble upon the grand revelation of why I'd transformed into an emotional wreck, and its nonexistent.

Then I thought of a story my professor, Madame Ziane, told me a few days before. She had come to America 10 years ago, and shared with me that she felt very similar to the way I feel here. Madame is a fan of America now, but at one time, she too was afraid to speak to strangers, for she did not think her English was good enough for people to understand her. For the first few months, she cried the same tears I did two days ago. I only share this because it made me realize that there was no one to blame, and I am entitled to these tears. They help to break down the emotional barriers that help people like my professor and I adapt to new surroundings.

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