Now, before any rush to judgment, Andrew is, indeed, fortunate to be studying French in Paris as he writes. So, no ‘poor, Andrew’ sentiments. Anyone should be so lucky to have such an opportunity.
However, as anyone who’s entered a new setting (work, travel, school), with no grasp of new vocabulary or workings of the place, knows communicating and finding one’s footing can prove difficult.
It’s about this finding of footing and the isolation of limited communication that Weller writes.
Drawing on his present experiences in Paris, Weller shares this “ah, ha” moment as he realizes that this, or something similar, is what new international students experience each year as they arrive on campus.
Here’s a snipet:
“I don’t have a particular film or television show in mind but we’ve all seen this storyline play out. The patient is in a coma. The reason why doesn’t matter. She can hear everything. Her mind is 100% and she is in command of her intellect and her emotions. What she has no control over is her body. She is fully aware but can’t communicate in any way—no blink, squeeze of the hand, wiggle of the ear, zip. People in the room talk around, about and over her as though she is not there. She has things to say. She wants to let them know she’s alive in there somewhere. She is pained by the misery her condition has caused her loved ones. She is desperate to know what decisions might be made on her behalf, in which she can’t contribute or participate. She wants to live.
It is maddening, possibly literally. This could drive a sane person insane. It’s frustrating. It’s angering. It’s heartbreaking. It’s even infantilizing.
It’s Paris July 2012 and it’s me. When I first got here, I could barely manage a bonjour and a merci. Someone taught me how to say my name so I could say it to the passport guy, the front desk clerk, the receptionist at school. Even then, whatever was said to me I did not understand and could not respond. With my little dictionary in hand, I could stammer out some nouns: “me, taxi, hotel”. After three days of lessons, I can accomplish most anything if it can be started with, “I’d like…,” “I am…,” or “My name is…,” or involves counting to ten or pronouncing the vowels. I still can’t understand any reply and can’t engage in a response. I have a hard time even engaging in a conversation with my tutor because her English is so lacking. I’ve been here five days and I’ve had no significant, longer than a minute, meaningful human contact. I can’t even argue with the television. I’ve got no English language channel. God Bless the few people (typically in their 20’s and 30’s) who have had patience with me and/or knew a bit of English. One taught me how to ask for a receipt. That’ll please the Business Office.
It’s maddening, frustrating, angering, heartbreaking, infantilizing…lonely.
…I post this in solidarity with and empathy for our international students at our schools. They come over with varying degrees of academic and social English, based on our admissions criteria and the level of ESL support our individual schools can offer them. But without a friend who is also from Germany or Korea or Spain or Brazil, how lonely their life might be…(AW)