Hump week is the only way I can describe my experiences this last seven days. The first two weeks were mostly joy-filled and exciting, even if exhausting and somewhat alien. The adventure of being here was still “the point” and I was filled with “vim and vigor” as they used to say. School was an exhilarating mountain to climb; existing in a French-speaking world was welcomed and exciting; I was rising to the challenge and loving it!
But, something happened on Monday, at the beginning of Week 3. It started with the addition of three new students bringing our number up to 10, the maximum students per class. Ten doesn’t seem like much, but the classroom can only hold 6-8 comfortably (in my opinion). But, everything here is more compact and smaller than in States, so it’s no real surprise the classroom is, as well. Anyway, in my opinion, ten is too many. Additionally, two of the new students were 18 year old young German women who knew each other. They were a distraction right from the beginning; they would talk and whisper, seemingly endlessly. They, also, seemed to be better in French than most of us.
In addition, I was feeling what I at first thought was increased loneliness, but was actually “isolated”, rather than lonely. I have been filled and am so grateful for the support and communications from back home! My host parents are wonderful people and are taking very good care of me! However, they are also very private who keep to themselves and do not interact with me very much. The class is all girls 20 and under except two. So, I don’t really have much in common with them. And, the school is not set up to be a social networking solution. My teacher is very competent but is only there to do a job with a constantly rotating student body, as is the rest of the staff. But, that’s it. Additionally, everyone in my class was sick with some bug and I was irritated that I was likely next.
Finally, the routine I liked so much last week got on my nerves this week. The enjoyable two mile walk to and from school started to irritate me; my backpack felt unbelievably heavy even though I had not added any real extra weight; and I felt as though I was sweating more on the walk home when the day was the warmest. afternoon. The way the people here walk as though they are playing “chicken” all the time truly got on my nerves, and I was sick and tired of avoiding left-behind dog poop.
More than anything, I started to experience frustration at the slow pace of my French acquisition. I was so irritated that, no matter how hard I studied, after 2 WHOLE WEEKS of advanced beginner French, that I still wasn’t fluent! I was afraid I was “failing” in spite of the extra hours of study every day.
Do you see the irony of all of this? How unreasonable was all of this?! I had become my own worst enemy and, in a minor day-to-day way, had taken on the role of God. I’m glad to say that after an “aha” conversation Tuesday evening, Wednesday was a much better day. I re-centered myself on why I am here and began, again, to sense God’s hand in all of this. I relaxed in His presence and submitted to the “alienness” of life here. An invitation to dinner Friday came. I decided to make friends with the new girls instead of cause conflict - this worked out really well, actually. And, it was a lot more fun for me! Also, I took a leadership role in the class to get all of us talking with each other, especially before class. It turns out that most of them don’t know a lot more French than I do; it’s just that they are shy about asking questions, so they stay silent! Hilariously, they have learned to rely on me to raise my hand! All of them are delightful, smart people and I have benefitted from reaching out to them. They also all speak English remarkably well, and that helps.
What’s the point? The point is that hope is just a glance away, like the beauty of the street full of pink umbrellas I found because of construction closure on the street I usually walk on. It was there, I just needed to see it. The point is that I made my own situation a lot worse than it really was by placing unrealistic expectations on myself and the world around me. I remembered that bending in the wind is a lot more effective than fighting the wind head-on. More than anything, I went back to the basics of surrendering and trusting God for my days. My problems didn’t go away, but managing them got a whole lot easier.