I’ll be the first to say that maintaining a positive attitude during language training is tough. Really tough. You are on a constant rollercoaster of language emotions; one day you feel great about your abilities and the next day you can’t even say “أمريكي” (American). It is exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, and pretty damn cool all at the same time. I’ve found that the things that bother me the most in class are things that have bothered me for years, for example, constantly being interrupted. In the afternoons, I struggle to both stay awake and read tongue twisting Arabic sentences. And while honestly, I like to commiserate with my colleagues, language training really isn’t that bad. Yes, I lament daily about the trials I must endure to survive 8 long months of Arabic, but it is probably because if I went around shouting from the rooftops how freaking awesome language training is, people would look at me like I was crazy. Well and Diplomatic Security would probably have issues with that. I’ve found that in order to conform to the group mentality, I need to throw in a daily complaint about how terrible my class truly is. I really wish I didn’t have to do this or rather feel like it was necessary, but it is the psychology of long term language training. But, I don’t want it to be. And I don’t think it should be. It is too easy to fall into a jaded trap. I will say that I do believe it is important to advocate for yourself and your learning style though. If your class does not facilitate the learning you need, then you should feel empowered to speak with your teacher, supervisor, and learning consultant to discuss concerns.
So how does one break the cycle and maintain a positive attitude during language training?
1. Stick a post it note on the back of your door that says “suck it up cupcake.” Read it every morning.
2. Write down every day one thing that you did well in class. If you knocked it out of the park, right down everything.
3. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. At least for those moments of weakness.
4. Write down on a piece of paper the amount of money the Department of State is spending to train you in another language. Now divide that by the amount of money you spend in rent (if you are a non-local). Follow this up with a dollop of whipped cream on the humble pie.
5. Figure out how to say in your language why you joined the Foreign Service, all of it and from the heart.
6. Walk every hallway at FSI during lunch and look at the number of classrooms and languages.
7. Calculate the number of teachers in your department. All of those people have jobs because of people like you.
8. Celebrate success by taking a break from studying. Go out and enjoy the city and everything it has to offer. When else will you be able to live virtually free in a city that offers the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center, Bao Bao the panda, and Americans who theoretically know how to use traffic circles?
9. Shadow a congressional constituent services intern.
10. Lastly, take a moment to reflect on what lead you to this opportunity.