Learning: Month 1 Review

Approximately two months ago I was back in Seattle, in the process of interviewing for a position I thought would be great for me.  I went back and forth (mostly back) about thinking I could actually get the job, but alas, they liked me. 

Approximately one month ago, I boarded a plane for Laos after probably the most social 2 or 3 weeks I think I’ve ever had.  I had high expectations for myself, wasn’t sure what to expect of the country or the job.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up because, well, hope and I have some recent bad history.  I wanted to get settled in, make friends, learn the language in a zip, be a rock star at work and know all the right things to say and do.

It hasn’t gone exactly like that.  BUT, it’s been good and been what it needed to be.  I’m not settled in.  In fact, with the exception of toiletries, a few shirts, and a few books I haven’t unpacked yet.  Haha, my roommate did such an amazing job of fitting far more stuff than I ever though possible into my 4 suitcases that I’ve been afraid to move things around too much knowing I’d have to move again soon.  For friendships, I have one person here that I see on a consistent basis that I don’t work with.  To be honest though, I’m not worried about making friends.  After Seattle I have learned not to be impatient to building relationships and community.  This growing friendship also gives me regular opportunity to practice my Japanese.  Although, I’m not sure if you could call what I do “practicing.”

Language learning is going slow, too.  I can understand some things. Today my coworker asked me “why don’t you speak Lao?” and “what did you buy?”  Last night someone who was eating at the same noodle stand as me asked the owner about me and the owner replied “she lives here” and I could understand.  Some of the staff regularly use Lao with me and a lot of the time I know what they are saying but can’t respond.  There is stuff that I can say though.  But it was funny, today I was having a staff member go over the alphabet and there are two consonant pairs that sound EXACTLY the same to me.  It was driving me nuts.  I was like,  “You can actually here a difference between the two letters you’re saying??” It reminded me of the eye doctor visits where they ask, “Better 1 or better 2?”  and I’m thinking, “You’re not pulling a fast one on me, I know those two are the same.”  Lao has 2 k’s, ng, 2 s’s, ny, d, dt, b, bp, 2 p’s, 2 f’s, m, y, r, l, w, and 2 h’s.  Vowels are long and short and mostly easy to say, but a little complicated so far to read because there can be many many parts to a vowel.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier but tonight I googled Lao language and found a chart that explained the difference between b and bp and d and dt and now I feel like, “Great, now I know what to listen for.”

As for how things are going at work, I’d say well.  But I feel very insecure about this mostly because I’m on probation.  I worry constantly about if I’m making a good impression. The initial focus on learning and not outputs makes me feel like they probably think that I’m slacking. There is so much to learn though that I sometimes get stuck on where to begin and where the best place to look might be. Also, I get distracted easily by the children outside, or animal noises, or just the other people in the office. Other things like a computer that doesn’t always work, or power outages that last for indefinite amounts of time, a desk that I don’t fit behind (they fixed the height again so I can sit with my feet flat and knees at a 90 degree angle), fatigue from not sleeping well because I’m afraid of some bug I think I might have felt or a noise I’m trying to find the source of, stomach issues,or breathing problems.  The past two weeks I constantly feel like I’m not doing a good job.  One thing I am REALLY looking forward to though is learning children’s games.  It doesn’t even make sense how excited I am about this except that I like games and I like the idea of possibly documenting the games children play.  When I was in China I enjoyed learning Chinese card games.

There are some tendencies that I have that I think are really unhelpful to me here:
the tendency to be stoic and put up with things beyond a healthy point
a reluctance to ask others for help and be a burden to others
a preference for figuring things out for myself rather than taking others’ advice
a lack of self confidence in my ability to make decisions – This HAUNTS me, because any time I think that I want something really badly (like a particular house for example), I think back to how badly I wanted to move to Seattle and how that turned out…
general lack of self-confidence
inability to find my bearings or learn cities very well (its even harder here with no street names)
not being patient with myself ( sometimes I think “this is a big transition of course you’re still learning” and other times I think that is just a cop out or an excuse to be lazy)

Even though I’m aware of these things that are preventing me from feeling at my best here I’m having trouble changing…

When it comes to doing and saying the right things, too, I’m always a little unsure if I’m striking the right balance.  I can be really goofy and playful (I know, to some of you this might be very hard to believe).  I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh, and I really like to hear people’s stories.  (Today at work, one of my coworkers said he wanted to record my laughter and make it his cell phone ringer!) I’m lonely and so I also just want to make friends with people at work but because I supervise them, I don’t know how much of that is appropriate.  Or in this context is it ok to be their friend? I don’t know.

This has been a month filled with questions, firsts, familiar things, laughter (and a couple of tears about finding housing), growing pains, loneliness, camaraderie, doubt, belief, steps outside of myself and steps retreating in, fun, payoffs on my efforts and stalled attempts.  But, I think these things might be found anywhere and any time you put yourself in a challenging situation.  At the very least, I’m glad about the purpose they might serve in growing me in crucial ways.

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5 thoughts on “Learning: Month 1 Review

  1. Rachel says:

    You might want to make friends with a neighbor. Preferably a single older female. She may help you learn the language quicker and let you in on more some social norms. Having a neighbor as an alli can be a priceless asset.

  2. Ellie Kleinwort says:

    You are too hard on yourself, Alicia. 🙂 Instead if focusing on the negatives, or the “still-in-progresses,” focus on the AWESOME things you are doing. The last month you have been very bold and brave, super strong, and you are doing things that most people in the US could not dream of doing. YOU ARE AWESOME! Change happens a baby step at a time, and while you are waiting, you can be proud that you are making the change.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I know this comment is late (catching up here), but I cannot believe you can already understand that much Lao. Seriously.

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