This weekend we drove up to Toronto to visit our family, aka the Italian family that has merged into our Greek family after meeting at the 2014 international convention in Detroit. Since that time, we’ve basically had a “family” reunion once a year, every year. What brought us up to Toronto this time was the fact that this family was graduating from the Arabic language course that was sponsored by the branch in their area.
Today we were invited to attend their graduation as guests, and it’s got me thinking in ways that can only end in a blog post 😉
Some of the talks we heard at the graduation ceremony were phenomenal. The first talk, for example, talked about three of the obstacles that someone in a foreign language field might encounter: discouragment, irritation, and the tendency to look back. The brother said we might face discouragement over our perceived lack of progress in the language. Or we might be discouraged with how long it’s taking us to adapt to the culture. We might be irritated. Irritated with the language, or possibly even with the small group of friends in that foreign language. We might be tempted to look back. “Man remember those good old days in English when I didn’t have to work for my spiritual food?” “Remember when I could finish preparing for a meeting in an hour, and not three?”
These are very real challenges. So real, in fact, that I was moved to write about them. I’ve experienced all of these feelings, and am still experiencing some even now. And I’d venture to say that most friends in a foreign language field have experienced one or more of these obstacles at one time or another. But it got me thinking. The foreign language field is not an easy place to be. You have to be made of some pretty tough stuff, that’s for sure. And I do wonder…with all of these challenges, how important is it that you are passionate about the field you choose? And I don’t just mean the language. Because that’s a very small part. I mean the culture, the mannerisms, the food, the way service is done…just to list a few. How long can you last if you don’t connect with any of those things?
Confession time…my sister and I have been in love with Asia since we were little. But…to be specific, I was in love with Japan. Japan. Not Taiwan. Not Chinese. Not beef noodle soup. Japan. So when my sister said that she was dead set on learning Chinese and moving to Taiwan, I have to admit that my heart wasn’t in it. After all, I never thought much of that language or culture and never had any desire to immerse myself in it. But, as you might know from my previous blog posts, I had gotten off a bad breakup around that time, and an adventure half-way across the world sounded exactly like what the doctor ordered.
Now, I won’t lie…Taiwan grew on me. It grew on me like those orchids grow on the trees in Hualian and wrap themselves tightly around them. But why didn’t it last? Sure, everything I wrote about in my last post was 90% to blame. But what about that other 10%? What if I was actually passionate about this? Passionate about the language, passionate about the people, passionate about the culture…passionate about the food, even. Not just accepting in the form of, “it grew on me”. Passionate. Would things have been different?
I stood in the Kingdom Hall today singing in Arabic, like everyone else was trying to do, and all I could think of was how much more I was already drawn to this language compared to Chinese. Interesting fact: Arabic was my first choice. I was always very interested in the “desert languages”. But my sister wanted nothing to do with it. And since she seemed confident that Taiwan was the way to go, that’s what we did. But was it the right decision for me, personally? And can someone really force immersion in a foreign language field if their heart isn’t in it?
Now I wonder about all of this…
But it doesn’t matter…at least not right now, anyway. Because we have already bought our tickets and will be heading out on August 27th to explore the Final Frontier. No, not space 😉 We’ll be heading to the only other country in Asia that uses the language we learned in Taiwan. Will I like it any better there? Who knows. All I know is that this time I’m doing things differently. We’ve bought a three month return ticket, so if I can’t develop some kind of passion for this field in those three months I’m hopping on a plane and coming straight back home.
The same super sweet friend I talked about from Michigan reminded me that maybe I just haven’t found my “place” yet. That made me feel a lot better. After all, how can you know somewhere is or isn’t your “place” unless you try it? So as flakey as I sometimes feel for moving from ASL to Chinese…and then to who knows what…I’m not going to knock myself down about it. Because everything is an experience, but that doesn’t mean that everything is going to suit you. And today’s talks made me realize that the foreign language field is difficult enough as it is…I certainly shouldn’t have to be forcing myself to love the language and culture on top of all that.
So, when the time comes, I hope I can find the place on the map where a “greater need” and my passion intersects.
But until that time, I’ll take all that’s to come as what it is – another adventure 🙂