My second week of school started off on a completely different foot from the prior. In retrospect, it was inevitable; perhaps, I’d been fooling myself to think I was immune, but then again, I’ve never really been out of my comfort zone, have I?
The day started out as any other, we settled into our seats and conversed about weekend escapades as we waited for our lecturer. Upon her arrival, we started off with a review of the previous week’s lessons and homework. I was feeling pretty proud of myself that I was able to both understand her questions fairly quickly and respond with correct pronunciation and grammar in German (yay me!). We moved onto formal questions; you know, those that might be posed by a civil servant in a government office or a possible employer. Now, the English-speaking world does not have a formal version of ‘you’; we’d just use the person’s title – Mr. or Ms. So-and-so. But in German, it is very important to differentiate formal conversation from personal conversation; so this lesson was very necessary as we will have a whole lot of forms to fill out and interviews to live through.
We got about three quarters of the way through a basic data form – name, marriage title, birthdate, etc – and were learning how to say our nationality in German. Everyone else’s nationality was similar to how it would be said normally – i.e. American became Americanische – everyone’s but mine; Bahamian was reduced to Bahamasische. Uhh, what?! Understanding that most Austrians know very little about The Bahamas other than what’s seen on our tourism commercials and suspecting that they might creatively fabricate things where my country was concerned, I explained to the teacher that people born in The Bahamas were Bahamians…to no avail…and this is where I had a personal meltdown!
So you’re asking, what’s the big deal?! Who cares?! Well, unbeknownst to me, feelings of being stripped of myself must have been festering and building and that last layer being removed was just a bit much. I realized, I cared a whole lot about whether The Bahamas was called Bahamas or The Bahamas! And I certainly cared whether I was called a Bahamas or a Bahamian. At that moment, it felt to me that I’d lost everything that defined me in this move – my career, my independence, my ability to correspond clearly and succinctly, my personal identity, shoot..even my SUV! And now they want to take my nationality! It was the first time that I failed to find a silver lining or a light at the end of the tunnel or even a lesson to be learned…I just excused myself to visit the bathroom where I silently sobbed – feeling devastated and lost – before splashing cold water on my face, squaring my shoulders, and returning to class.
During our normal 15 minute break, my lecturer confided that she’d spent a few years living in both Hungary and Rome, each time having to learn a new culture and language as well as make new friends while finding her footing – her way of telling me she understood how I felt (I know, very unkind of me right now but darn it, I’m still sulking!). I could quote an inspirational statement to close out this post but its not how I feel. I know that in a few years, this will be a silly laugh but today, my emotions mimic the weather – wet, grey, cold, and miserable – making me want to curl up in my bed and hide.