Tag Archives: learning

Spanish, Service & Switching Places

301645_10150425046621215_890517333_nA few years ago, when I lived in Spain, I went on a weekend trip to Extremadura, which is basically a lot of desert and a few Roman ruins.  It was a school-sponsored trip, so our accommodations were classed-up considerably from the cheapest (safe) hostel we could find online, which is what we usually went for, to a formal hotel.

I don’t remember the exact problem or what caused it, but I had some kind of trouble with my room key.  Because of it, I couldn’t get in my room.  Exhasperated, tired, and hungry, I complained to the guys from my school who were hanging out in the hallway.  One of them cut me off and impatiently told me to go down to the front desk, “You’re not shy, and you speak Spanish fine.  What’s the problem?”

could speak Spanish, but I only liked to use it around people I knew well.  I knew I didn’t speak it flawlessly, and I was afraid of sounding stupid–especially at the concierge’s desk in a fancy hotel.  I hated that I couldn’t get my thoughts and ideas out exactly right, so most of the time, I didn’t even try.

I’ve barely used the language at all since I returned to the US in the winter of 2011.

But Spanish has been on my mind lately.  I’ve taken to reading el mundo at lunch and started mentally walking through what a phone conversation would be like if a Spanish-speaking person called the church.

To that end, I’ve been waiting, hoping, thinking, planning, praying, but only sortof expecting to use it.

Today, I was talking to a woman at a big, annual church work day in apartment complex that needs some love.  I walked up to her because she was alone, and I like helping people feel part of the group.

We had a comfortable back-and-forth conversation, and eventually she told me about how she usually doesn’t like speaking in English.  She’s afraid she’ll mess up.  I thanked her for her willingness to converse with me, even though it was hard for her.

Then BOOM.  No fear.  No nerves.  No hesitancy.

I started talking to her in Spanish.

My new friend and I talked a little more about our families, and then we went our ways.  But while I was walking away, I realized that what had just happened was really, really good.  I’d voluntarily swapped places with someone who was uncomfortable by putting myself in the vulnerable position.

It was a discovery that became my MO for the rest of the day.  I asked a group of shy, little girls who would barely talk to me to help me with my Spanish, and by the end of the day, I had a long shadow that followed me everywhere.  All we talked about was Disney princesses and jump rope, but sometimes what you talk about matters a lot less than the time you spend together.

I grew-up doing the work day thing.  I know how to get work done, start a party with a bunch of kids, introduce myself to their parents, help make people feel comfortable, and seek Kingdom breakthrough with people who think that God would never do anything here.  It was awesome today, just like it always is.

But doing it in Spanish–woah, that’s new.

As an added appendice to this story–I so seriously should have gotten in an accident on the way home.  I didn’t see past Shirley’s head in the passenger seat and attempted turn directly into an oncoming car, but even though I was still pushing the gas pedal, the car didn’t get any faster.  In that split-second moment of “what just happened?,” I looked down at my dashboard.  The car had slipped into neutral (??!??); major, major accident averted.

Yeah, awesome day.

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It’s not how you go (Paris, Part III)

It’s who you meet while you’re there.

I love that moment, when everything you know is turned on its head and suddenly you realize everything you thought you understood wasn’t wrong, but oh so wholly incomplete.  You sit, not daring to speak, just listening to ideas expressed so articulately that it simultaneously fortifies and challenges the foundation of your every conception of the topic at hand.

With a blank expression, you sit as someone else explains everything you ever tried to say, but shorter and clearer than you could ever imagine.

And then, you speak.  And in doing so, you engage in the most mentally stimulating conversation you ever dared to enter.  It’s more than just academic wonder.  One can learn things anywhere, but there is some kind of excited, accelerating learning process that engages when someone who thinks just similarly enough to you to make the nuanced arguments lively and divisive.

It’s the most invigorating and safest place to ask new questions, because you can’t get away with anything, but the other person really isn’t interested in destroying the base of your thesis, just the structure your argument.

This kind of setting is almost surreal.  I don’t often get to spend much time with people who think like me, and even less who can truly understand how my experiences as a conservative at Wes have created a deep craving for this kind of company.

Take that feeling.  Transport it to Paris.  Talk about a humiliating (as in humbling, not embarrassing) experience.

Thursday night, I went to a meeting and ate dinner with several economists and what my friends only half-jokingly called the entire French (classical) liberal movement.  It’s hard to think of a country that could produce an author with such clarity as Frederick Bastiat could be what it is today, but as I sat and looked around the room during their meeting (I had nothing else to do, since I don’t speak French) I noticed a few things.

The framed photo of Milton Friedman on the fireplace mantle gave me the assurance that while I really had no idea what they were talking about, I really was at a gathering of classical liberals in France (something which I was would not have believed existed if I wasn’t friends with several of them).

I’ve had a lot of ugly thrown at me and dealt with even more stomach flipping anger and frustration, but these people deal with more on a daily basis than I have ever faced.  France is about the size of a million Wesleyans.

On the way home my friend’s husband explained to me how he’s able to communicate his classical liberal message in a way that people can begin to understand.  He does it through his work on France’s national security and emergency preparedness.  I didn’t initially get the connection he was making, but as he it explained it, it blew my mind.

The greatest obstacle in trying to explain why I think as I do to someone with an entirely different opinion is getting them to follow an argument argued from an entirely different perspective.  With different frames of mind, it’s hard to understand where someone is coming from.

I’ve worked hard to enter the (American version of the) liberal frame of mind, and while I have had many a eye rolling experience, I can respect it, however vehemently I disagree with it.

But getting people to follow where I’m coming from, that is so much harder.  To do so, you have to start where their thinking is at and succinctly work your way back to the conclusions you were making in the first place.

But that’s what everyone was doing that night.  Talking about who they should endorse for president, if anyone.  Discussing how to get their message across.  Listening to Jean-Baptiste explain how he is able to put his libertarian chalkboard economics into practice and communicate it in such a way that it can begin to be accepted by the non-Hayek loving French population made me smile inside.

It was like observing all the activism I learned at LI and the intellectualism I was exposed to at ISI working together, perfectly.

Though I doubt I would have fully understood the conversations, even if they had been in entirely in English, the topics discussed, questions posed, and problems addressed that night made me feel more at home than I’ve been in such a long time.

I always counted myself among the big dreamers, but hanging out with these guys made me think that just maybe my little five-point plan for my life might be selling myself short.  Because however far I might have already come means nothing in comparison to where I can go from here.

While reflecting on all I had done that day, an after dinner, midnight walk down the Champs Elysee with Coralie, Jean-Baptiste, and one of the guys I met that night made me realize whether it’s Wesleyan, New York, Madrid, or Paris, it really doesn’t matter how you go; just who you meet while you’re there.