After the first week of classes at the University of Yucatan, I had so much more respect for English as Second Language students and international students in the U.S. Sitting in a class for two hours and not understanding anything the professor is saying is nerve wrecking and leaves you feeling defeated.
Going into this program, I assumed that I would be judged a little harsher for being a Latina who doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. Surprisingly, the local students have not been acutely surprised or disappointed that I have less than the best Spanish speaking abilities. They are very kind and help me out when I’m missing words from my vocabulary or can’t finish a complete thought. Many of the students were speak or know a little bit of English so they are able to help here and there. They understand that you are a foreign student and need a little help.
On the contrary, I feel more self-conscious speaking among the other peers in my program group. They are much quicker to correct my mistakes and because of their greater fluency they tend to dominate conversations with local students when we spend time in a group. It can feel very exclusionary when you are just sitting there quietly and everyone else is participating in a conversation. These are all blows to your linguistic confidence. As time goes on that confidence will grow.
Having been here about a month now, I already feel like it has grown a lot. I owe a lot of my linguistic confidence to the chats over coffee I have with my host mom. She is one of the few people I feel completely secure in speaking Spanish with. She allows me to speak as I know how and express my thoughts fully. She corrects me and teaches me new words often but always after I’ve finished talking. When I speak with her I don’t feel bad about myself when she corrects me.
By this fact, I think it’s a cultural norm in the U.S. among college students, to want to be perceived as smart by your peers. Often we hear friends say that they didn’t ask a question in class because they don’t want to sounding stupid or make the wrong comment. At my home university, I’m usually the first to offer my opinion or ask questions in class. School is my source of confidence. Here at UADY I’m learning what it feels like to not be at the top of my class, among the locals or other U.S. students. Although, it has been hard thus far, a mentor of mine back home reminded me that this learning experience is challenging me more than any course could at UT.