Monday, September 6, 2010
As September rolls in, the end of summer becomes apparent. In Belgium schools start on Sept 1st, businesses that were closed for the summer break, reopen and community services and education restarts. Therefore, my Language course at the community service building commenced.
Although I have been dabbling in Flemish AKA Vlaams or Nederlands, I am by no means able to communicate beyond the basics and have even come up with a new dialect I call Flengels. This is a mish mash of Flemish/English words and phrases that the kids and I speak to each other. It seems to work and with the help of a few hand signals and facial expressions we, for the most part, are able to communicate.
However it is now time for a "formal" education. My inability to communicate with the locals in their tongue is a bit frustrating. I can follow along for a while, then oops I am lost...I know it is a matter of time and effort so I will plug away.
I sat for my first class last week. The classes are held at the local community center. They meet 4x per week for 3 hours for 11 weeks. All this for 60 euro.
My particular group consists of between 10-15 folks depending on who shows up. Given this, you can imagine the various levels of learning.
Our instructor was born in Hong Kong to a Chinese father and Belgian mother. Her native languages are Nederlands and English although also speaks French and Italian. And NO, she does not speak Chinese!! She tries to conduct the class as much as possible in Vlaams but given the remedial level has to communicate in some other language for comprehension. This language is English. I was amazed that most (with the exception of a couple of Turks and a man from Azerbaijan), people know English. Yet for the few that don't, she uses Google translate to convey the meaning of a word.
My classmates are an interesting lot. I by far am the oldest and (of course) am the only American. There are 3 Turks, 1 Azerbaijani, 2 Sri Lankans, 1 Indian, 1 Pakistani, 2 Slovakians, 1 Romanian, 1 Bangladeshi, 1 Tibetan, 1 Afghani,1 Congolese, 1 Iraqi and myself (the American). Strange but wonderful mix!
The first few classes focused on common phrases and information gathering and is always a good way to break the ice and see how everyone learns and responds. Overall, I find it a bit slow but know as we progress I will have plenty of challenges. However I am trying to see the positiveness of this experience and today it was CLEAR.
As I took my seat before class started, I asked the young Afghani sitting beside me who appears to be in his early 20's, why he came to Belgium. I knew from the previous class that he is here without family so I was curious. He said he HAD to. "Had to?", I asked. "Yes, I had to leave for political reasons." "Oh" , I said. "Asylum?" "Yes, sort of" and then he came closer and whispered "they were going to kill me. Not the government but the Taliban. they were out to kill me. I had to leave."
GULP, My heart instantly sank. This is the REAL DEAL. I didn't know what to say. I came here by CHOICE to start a new chapter in my life, he comes here by choice to be able to stay alive. He left his family and does not know when he will ever see them again. Once again, I have been humbled.
During our break, I was curious and asked the Tibetan woman, how long she was here and why? She also is awaiting Asylum status. she left Tibet in 2005 to India and then made her way to Belgium. she's been here for 4 years and is waiting for her status...WOW, I instantly felt very fortunate.
So here we all sit, learning to speak Nederlands with various accents and for different reasons. At first, my initial reaction to the class was frustration as I know on my own, I can learn much quicker than the level of the group. And due to the diversity of languages and levels, am a bit stifled. Once again I tell myself "Patience my friend Patience." If anything, this is another great experience and I am reminded of how fortunate I am. To be born and raised in a country that allows me to think what I want, believe what I believe, and make CHOICES because I want to, not because I HAVE to is quite a gift. I am thankful.