Things I Do Instead of Studying

Language learning is exhausting. But even worse than struggling to pay attention for a full 6 hours a day, is motivation. I have a hard time finding and keeping motivated in the evenings. I have lots of things I could do, but I still don’t know what works best for me. What makes it stick?! So, instead of studying, here are the things I do that I think seem productive, but really it is just me avoiding the inevitable:

1. Clean my house. Need your toilets scrubbed? Because I would rather do that than sit down and conjugate verbs.

2. Vacuum. The sweet dolcent tones of the vacuum cleaner are so soothing after listening to Arabic all day.

3. Translate English into Oklahoman. Because I don’t have enough languages in my brain already.

4. Blog. Avoidance level bravo.

5. Eat sour cream. Alright, I have an unhealthy relationship with sour cream. I sneak into my fridge, grab a spoon, and eat sour cream like it is ice cream. I just ate chips and salsa, so I could have an excuse to eat sour cream. So, basically, I just ate chips with sour cream and a wee bit of salsa.

6. Dance around my sunroom. Turn off the lights, blare the Taylor Swift, and shake it out. Nothing beats avoiding language like shaking your hips until they fall off or your neighbors complain.

7. Happy hours. That’s work right?

8. Watch the cleaners in the office building next to my apartment. They have these nifty little backpack vacuums that look super fun.

9. Shop on Amazon, but never buy anything. It’s the best of all worlds.

10. Read the FAM. The Foreign Affairs Manual, because it’s only creepy if I quote it.

11. Text people. Everyone needs to know every little thing I’m doing right?

12. Do yoga. Well sorta, and in bursts. And then I get bored and would rather stare at those vacuum backpacks.

13. Make lists.

Late night confessions of an ELO

It is currently 3:15 in the morning.  I’ve been a little stressed out with language and the lack of anything else in my life.  This stress is manifesting as a sleepless night.  So what’s a girl to do when she’s stressed out in the middle of the night? Read the Foreign Affairs Manual,  naturally.  It’s beautiful,  everything is laid out so nicely.  The structure is reassuring and comforting.  My Arabic class is missing some structure and clearly my nighttime wandering mind was looking for something soothing and pleasing to ease my stress. 
And it’s working,  nothing is more reassuring than knowing the FAM is always there.

Grumbles and Gratitude

I often grumble about language classes. Mainly because I never talk about anything else besides language nowadays. I grumble about how mentally exhausting it is and how everyone expects more out of us than I physically have the capacity to do. I grumble about how difficult it is and how somedays I feel like nothing sticks. I grumble about homework and not knowing how or what to study. I just sorta grumble all day long. And this negative energy is miserable. Language is hard, boo hoo. It can be incredibly frustrating to have no measurable or perceived notion of progress. We know what score we need to obtain in order to get off language probation and go to post, but there is no real measure in class of how we are doing. It feels like we are just building a lego castle one brick at a time, but we have no concept of what the final design is supposed to look like. I spend so much mental energy on Arabic, when I get frustrated it seems to come out as whatever emotion my body’s emotion roulette wheel just landed on. Most of the spaces are filled with tears. Because learning a new language is hard.

But when I get too far into the weeds of language despair, I sit back and think about everything that has happened in the past year. I start listing off things I’m grateful for. I start thinking about the little things that make me happy. I think about how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing. And suddenly all my worries seem so much less significant. And I feel right with the world again.

Three years ago, today, I was boarding a plane bound for Ghana. I spent two years hot, sweaty, and poor. I treasured running water and air conditioning. I obsessed over food. I was rarely healthy. And now I have the greatest luxury of all: a good paying dream job. I am eternally grateful for everything I have, because less than a year ago I had barely anything. I used to grumble about the stench of my latrine when someone forgot to put down the cover. Now I grumble about getting paid to learn a fascinating language all day? Perspective is truly everything when you’ve seen both sides. Sometimes, I just forget to look back. We all do I guess. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own world and issues, that we forget to be thankful. We forget to take a step back and see the bigger picture. And sometimes this girl needs a post-it note on the back of her door that says: “suck it up, cupcake.” Just a friendly reminder that gratitude can affect your attitude.

And just when I thought

Just when I thought things were looking up, they pull the rug out from under us and now give us two languages to learn. Essentially, spoken Egyptian and written Modern Standard Arabic (for reading). And then they hit us with triple the normal vocabulary and too many grammar rules and far too little English for me to feel comfortable. I’m that person in class, you know the one. That one person who drags everyone else down because I’m not up to speed. I just keep looking for the lightswitch and I can’t seem to find it. My biggest fear when I accepted this job and what I watched play out in A-100 is feeling substandard to my colleagues. And the hard reality is I might not be able to shine in a management GSO job for another 4-6 years. I sure hope I can find some confidence in the next few days. But in good news, my Twi and German are making a wonderfully swift comeback and improving by the day!

Phasing Out

Phase One is almost over. I had some great moments and not so great freakouts. The learning curve was pretty steep, but I think I really like Arabic. For now. Hands down the most entertaining part of class so far has been learning words that sound like terms we use in Oklahoma that are highly inappropriate to be saying at work. I honestly feel like a kindergartner again, not just the learning a new language and script, but my complete inability to keep it together when a select few words are uttered.

1. Her brother. It sounds like whoo-ha to my ear. In Arabic, you might translate a sentence and say: “her brother is nice.” In Oklahoma, if you say “her whoo-ha is nice” you best be getting your mouth washed out or a slap across the face.

2. I was. It rhymes with blunt and is a not so nice thing to call a lady. So needless to say, I die laughing every time someone nonchalantly uses it in a sentence.

3. Only. Fuck it. There’s no other way to put it, simply sounds exactly like fuck it. On a scale of one to even, I just can’t.

I sit in class giggling like a little girl, because apparently I grew up in a barn. Maybe Arabic has taken over the part of my brain that also controls baseline maturity. I can’t help but laugh and my teachers can’t keep it together now either. I try using it in a sentence with a straight face and my teachers start snickering. It’s rather great actually, why? Because, I’m having a good time. I’d rather be laughing as opposed to crying. I’ll take immature giggles any day of the week. At least I’m getting an ab workout.

Next week, our class changes again and we move on to full Egyptian. All Egyptian all the time. I’m just excited that I’m starting to get the humour. Take this short skit for example. The guy says one thing the entire time – do you want to drink tea?

Language Blues

Missing: motivation, soul, and pep. If found, please return.

It feels like someone has usurped my soul and I’ve been left with a shell. I don’t feel like myself. I know exactly who the culprit is: language studies. More precisely: the combination of not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing, coupled with not understanding the grand scheme, and not knowing how to study. I feel lost and confused. I take one step forward and three steps back.

Full time language study makes me feel like a zombie. I’m tired, brain dead, and always hungry. I couldn’t stop crying for two hours this morning. It’s embarrassing, unprofessional, and a waste of time. But it was all I could do today. I just lost it. If there is one thing I can’t stand it is feeling inadequate. I’m not afraid of making mistakes, but it is the constant barrage of mini-failures that just wears me down. I sit in class defeated and unable to muster the energy to put my heart into the exercise. But the problem is these feelings come in waves. Sometimes I feel great about class, but the last two days have been brutal. My brain knows that half the words we are learning aren’t used in Egypt, so it filters them out. But then I’m expected in class to know the vocab. Once I hit the slippery slope of defeated though, the day is shot. There are no gold stars or measures of success, because language is like the universe – constantly expanding and no one knows where the end is, if there is one. Even in those brief success moments, you know that right around the corner is a new set of vocab or a new grammar rule.

I pride myself on my positive attitude and ability to look on the bright side of things, but I’m having a hard time even finding the energy to be grateful. I really do feel like my pep has been stolen. I hope that it finds its way home soon, because 8 months is a long time. It’s one of those moments when I really wish I just had my dog. I hate sounding whiny and pessimistic, but I feel like this is part of the culture cycle. I’m finally hitting that point where everything isn’t rosy anymore.


Gave a five minute impromptu presentation for my supervisor today. Felt crappy in the afternoon, but make me perform under pressure and it is like magic. I spoke in Arabic with only a few English notes (such as, “my family lives”) and a couple Arabic ones. It is so hard to remember the word for Germany in Arabic. And I did it! I’m reading and speaking. And it is awesome. Now if only I felt healthy enough to celebrate.