I stare at the homework assignment. Only 50% of the questions make some sense. I attempt the ones that I understand, and circle the rest, because there’s not much I can do just by looking at the sheet of paper. The feeling is so familiar, yet so unfamiliar at the same time. I’m used to looking at calculus homework in this way. For my entire high school math career, almost everything went over my head, and I learnt the power of rote memorization and praying profusely the night before each test. But in a language class?? Granted, I’ve been challenged in Spanish, French, and Arabic classes before, but this is the first time that I’ve really struggled. In the past weeks of Arabic class, I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt confused. I’ve also realized that this is the academic setting that I’ve been waiting to experience for years.
Being in a class alone is overwhelming at times. Instead of raising my hand for the opportunity to participate in a class discussion, every exchange in class is a full scale discussion. Instead of sharing my confusion with my peers when we cover an especially difficult concept, I have to deal with it on my own. It’s sometimes frustrating, but at the same time, it’s liberating. Being alone has made me realize how much comparison and external standards were essential to my own perception of myself. I now realize how much, for years, I have unconsciously sought validation and comfort from my surroundings. If I did well in class, I would feel confident in my skills and hard work. If I was struggling along with everyone else in the class, it felt fine because I was one of many.
Now, alone, I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to focus on my own growth and development. I’m constantly being pushed to a level far higher than mine, and it’s up to me to decide how far I can go. Slowly but surely, I’m learning about balance, and about drawing boundaries for myself. Could I drive myself crazy and memorize all the vocab from an entire textbook over a weekend? Probably. Do I want to do that at the expense of cultural exploration? No. I’m learning more about myself and my abilities. Granted, I am here first and foremost for Arabic, and I’m working hard as always. But I’m also here to explore a new country and a new way of life, and I try to keep that in mind and spend some quality time away from my books each day. And besides, it’s a marathon, and I have eight more months to go.
Each day is a work in progress, with small victories and small defeats. Today, I successfully explained “gerrymandering” in Arabic (with the help of my poorly drawn diagram), but at the same time, I also made a very basic mistake that my teacher said she wouldn’t expect me to make. Despite the hurdles, I’m learning more than I ever have before, not just about Arabic grammar, but also about myself. These past few weeks have been some of the most challenging, frustrating, but fruitful weeks for me academically, and I’m excited to see what the coming months will hold.