I’ve never knowingly and willingly made so many mistakes in my entire life. After our orientation with our entire Nica 644 group at a nice hotel in Managua, we left the safety of English and the comfort of American-ish living. This past Saturday, I was welcomed into the home of my host mother in a small pueblo in the department of Masaya.
The home stay is a core component of Pre-Service Training (PST in Peace Corps acronym lingo). We are separated from our new friends in our cohort, including couples being split up, and placed in individual homes to live for the next three months. As Andrés mentioned in one of his previous posts, during these three months we are receiving intensive language and cultural training. There are three other trainees in my pueblo, although we each have our own family to live with. The four of us have language classes with our instructor through the week. While we have some PC staff trainings weekly, when we are not in class, our time is spent with our host families – ALL IN SPANISH!
The first few days with my host family were such a mix of extremely hard to extremely fun. Most of the trainees have a base level of Spanish knowledge when they enter PST. Mine is almost non-existent. From meals, bucket showers, power outages, games w/kiddos, and learning how to flush the toilet, to hanging up my mosquito net, asking for the keys to my room, simple pleasantries like “thank you,” or “how was your day,” we are doing it all in Spanish. Even my language professora only speaks the local language. No English. Nada.
As hard as this sounds, its purpose is to completely immerse us in the language. It’s apparently the best way to learn a language. I’m loving it so far! We’ll see where my language knowledge is in a few weeks.
Just imagine what I sound like now…..
When my head is exploding from all the knowledge being given to us:
Emily: “I have sleepiness. I can bed a little?”
Or when I’m trying to ask if it’s OK if I take a shower at that moment:
Emily: “I need [insert motions of Emily miming “taking a shower” here].
Mama: “You need a shower?”
Emily: “Yes. You need a shower.”
Mama: “No. Not, I need a shower, you need a shower.”
Emily: “Yes. You need a shower.”
I have to play a TON of charades.
Or trying to tell my host mother that I’m leaving to walk to the bus stop.
Emily: “I walk a bus.”
You see my problema? Thankfully my host family just laughs and I try again.
Just before heading to Staging, I had the privilege of receiving my Evangelist Blessing from a long-time mentor and friend. It’s a sacrament in my church, a special prayer of advice and wisdom said for a person often at a time of great transition in their life. While my blessing had many wonderful bits of advice, the main part that is constantly on my mind these first few days is to let go of my fears and embrace my strengths.
I have a lot of fears here – of making such silly mistakes with language, being away from my husband, not being able to do this.
But I also have a lot of strengths. I love learning! I’m putting my all into my Spanish classes and trying to speak even if I don’t know the correct way to say what I want to say. I listen to the corrections and then I immediately imitate the sounds and phrasings until I get it right. At night, I’m studying new vocabulary and how to use certain tenses. I constantly practice with my host family. I may not be able to understand most of what is said to me, but I just laugh and ask them to repeat it, as they do for me. Eventually (with a lot of charades thrown in the mix) we get there.
You don’t have to know much Spanish to play with a 4-year-old. Or smile and thank your host mother for the food. Or play with the older kids in the family. Although there are not many universal things about culture, there are some that transcend it.
Poco a poco – little by little, bit by bit – I will piece this together. As scared as I was upon my arrival, I’m really enjoying this opportunity. I’m laughing a lot, eating way too much, and learning more than I probably recognize.
Mistakes can be a step forward.
Que le vaya bien! (May you journey well)
When have you had the courage to risk something new, even if it meant making a mistake?