I am a certified, licensed ESL teacher. I spent three years teaching English to foreigners in a public school and have done private teaching since then. In college, my degree was in ESL and I learned all about how to be sensitive to and teach a Second Language Learner. The last year of my life, the roles have been reversed and now I am the Second Language Learner, sitting at the desk, experiencing everything I’d been trained in. I hadn’t anticipated this experience, and it has caught me off guard in some ways. It’s kind of like the difference between studying extensively about a disease and actually getting the disease.
The other day as I was sitting in class it dawned on me that I was in the equivalent of a high-school ESL class. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but I was surprised by the thought. The other students are from countries like Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Philippines, Ukraine, Mexico, Columbia,Vietnam, Thailand, and Chile. I had students from all of these countries in my classroom, so it is a typical ESL classroom, but now I’M ONE OF THEM. I AM THE FOREIGNER.
Okay, you are shaking your head, thinking It’s taken you an entire year to realize you’re a foreigner? Well, in some ways YES. The truth has begun to sink in more and more every day. Most people have encountered foreigners and have become easily frustrated with their lack of language or different style of doing things. It’s easy to quickly form opinions and put them all in a box. It’s shocking to think that now I AM that foreigner who desperately does not want to be categorized. This week Colby and I attended an International Fair. You know, the kind where you go around and taste foods from different countries? Colby and I both had a moment as we looked around the room at the weird foods served by different people in strange dress. We’d been to International Fairs before, but this time we were PARTICIPANTS with a table of of our own, handing out New York Cheesecake.
More thoughts on my foreignness later….but, do me a favor in the meantime, would you? Hug a foreigner today. After the initial awkwardness, it will probably mean a lot.