I have been at my placement site for just over a month now! Actually, that’s not entirely true — I’ve been travelling a lot due to holidays and a workshop with Life with Dignity. Settling into my host community has certainly been different than I expected. It’s been really exciting to learn about my new community and coworkers but if I’m really being honest, it hasn’t been easy either.
I love trying new things and experiencing the world but I also get intimidated pretty easily. This presents a whole new challenge when I’m trying to live and work in another country, speaking a totally different language!
I often will try speaking (short sentences only at this point) in Khmer only to be met with a confused look. This is so disheartening for me, particularly when I think I’ve figured out how to say a new word or phrase. It makes me want to give up, to find someone who speaks English and have them translate for me. How crazy was I to think that I could ever learn how to communicate well in Khmer?
These feelings were so overwhelming that in my first week, I didn’t speak very much. I was happy to go through the day listening to everyone, hoping I could pick up Khmer that way and that at some point, I would suddenly be able to speak in perfect, beautiful Khmer.
But then I was reminded of something that I need during this year in Cambodia: grace.
One of my coworkers stopped me before dinner on my first Thursday in Phnom Kravanh said to me, “Do you miss your home?” I said, “A little bit, but not too much!” trying to communicate that I was indeed enjoying my time here. Then he said, “Are you shy?”. I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at but I replied, “Yeah, I guess so. But not once I get to know everyone and figure out my way around Kravanh!” He nodded and replied, “I don’t think you should be shy”. Then, he proceeded to show me pictures of his family and went downstairs for dinner.
At first, I was pretty confused by what he meant. But then, I realized that he (and probably the rest of my coworkers) didn’t expect me to speak perfect Khmer. They just wanted me to try, to be with them. I was already forgetting the main reason I’m here (refer to previous blog)!
I realized I wanted to avoid speaking Khmer because I was scared of messing up, scared of being wrong, scared of offending someone, scared of sounding stupid. Which is ridiculous because I will mess up, I will be wrong, I will offend someone, I will sound stupid. I’m not here to be perfect. I’m here to learn from and to build relationships with the people I have been called to serve and I can’t do that without embracing grace. I know I am so undeserving of the many instances of grace I have already received, which is the entire point, but it isn’t always easy to accept. I often like to think I’m a strong, confident, independent young woman and while these things may be true, going abroad and serving in another country is such a humbling experience. In a lot of ways, I am utterly useless in Cambodia. I need to be able to accept moments of grace from God, my coworkers, the other YAGM in my cohort, my country coordinators, and myself.
So after the conversation with my coworker, I marched downstairs and proceeded to eat with my coworkers. I tried out a few words and tried to ask questions. I listened, I smiled. I laughed when they laughed, hoping I wasn’t laughing along at something inappropriate! I can’t promise that my Khmer stellar now but I do my best to learn something new every day and I try not to worry about making a fool of myself.
As Charlie Chaplin once said, “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” Have courage and I hope you will be able to accept grace in your life as well.