Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Precious

It finally happened. I have been banned from a class.

Okaay it's not really that bad - the students are particularly unenthusiastic and they're behind anyway, so I've been relocated to another classroom so I can be put to better use. As their teacher said, "You're too precious to go to waste in this class!"

Some "native speakers" hanging out in Krems
"Precious"... that word has such strange connotations to me. Firstly, it makes me think of my friends sarcastically complimenting me for being dressed like a 10 year old girl, which made me chuckle inappropriately when the teacher said this. Then, I think of some sort of rare, expensive jewel, which also seems kind of strange to me. But then I thought about it a bit. A native speaker IS a rare, expensive thing. These students have been watching American movies and TV their whole lives but very few have ever really had a chance to speak to an American, to see what kind of things we say in real life. I'm sure the teachers of these classes don't walk in saying 'What's up guuuys?" or many other things that may be considered "slang" but are just considered to be normal conversation for me. Not to be self-centered, but English is an important language in the world, particularly in business and tourism. I don't know how many times I've heard people on a train conversing in English, though it is obvious that neither is speaking their native language. English is the most commonly spoken language in the word (except Chinese?) and having a basic understanding of it helps make an international life easier.

For that reason, I'm lucky; I speak English pretty darn well, though not perfectly, let's be honest! English is an interesting language because it's constantly changing. I have a theory that slang in English progresses faster than slang in any other language because the native speakers are a. striving to differentiate themselves from other English speakers, and b. striving to differentiate themselves from people who don't speak English natively. The United States and England have only been separated for approximately 400 years, but there's still plenty of terms the Brits use that I've never heard of (hob? aubergine? bin?!).

In Krems-Stein
Anyway, I can't judge my students for not taking advantage of talking to me, because I struggle to take advantage of the 8 million Austrians surrounding me. This year has been full of a lot of self discovery, but unfortunately a large part of that discovery is that I'm antisocial and I don't like looking foolish and making language mistakes. Also, I could talk to any old Austrian just to practice German, but I don't know what to talk about! So, instead, I adventure Vienna by myself (citybike, a free bike service, is currently rocking my world), read great books and occasionally make small talk with the man who works at Spar.

In other news, my school had its Maturaball on Saturday! I took the opportunity to be the only person to speak English to my students at this event, and had a great time! It was fun to see my favorite teachers, it was fun to see my favorite students, it was fun to dance like a crazy American.

Not that I'm counting, but I counted and I've got 11 weeks left here in Austria. It's kind of refreshing to know the exact number. The time pressure encourages me to go out and go see the museums I have been meaning to see, while also making me want to end everything on a good note. It's easy to stay positive in the springtime when trees are blossoming and people are outside and bunnies are bounding across fields.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Being a Seattle Rain-Lover

I'll admit. I've been a bad blogger recently. I've been struggling with some homesickness/real sickness that has kind of made life here not something I felt like writing about. Sorry, I'll try to be better.

Today I experienced something wonderful! Something that I am used to having almost daily, something which gives life and takes away life (everything has pros and cons, folks) and mostly, gets things wet.

Yes, RAIN!

To you Northwesters, this probably sounds crazy, because it rains all the time there and what's the big deal about rain? And to you non-Northwesters, this also probably sounds crazy, because who likes rain!? Turns out, I do. it never rains here. Sure, it rained once or twice in October, but I didn't miss rain then. We also had a lot of snow, which is precipitation but of the wrong kind (it's too cold).

I opened my windows at 4PM to see the glorious sight of rain falling into the courtyard (I should mention that I've been ill and bedridden since Tuesday afternoon - standing is difficult. Also, this could have added to my delirium). I immediately donned my raincoat and headed out the door.

I had forgotten what cars and footsteps sound like in the rain, heavier and snappier. I had forgotten how rain strengthens all scents, making mud smell muddier, cigarettes smell cigarette-ier and Indian food smell Indian food-ier (who knew that was possible?!). It's the smell of waking up, of life, of spring! Feeling my cheek, rain makes me wonder if I'm crying, while also making me feel like I've just stepped out of a shower. It's confusing and wonderful and reminds me of home.

I talk about Seattle a lot in my schools, because no one's ever heard of Portland, and everyone's heard of Sleepless in Seattle or Grey's Anatomy. Both show a lot of rainy scenes of Seattle, and it's true, it does rain a lot. But it's not the rainiest city in the US, apparently, even though we like to brag that it is "the Rainy City". I guess it just rains... often. Anyway, like I said, I've been dealing with some homesickness lately. The weather has been lovely (rain, yes, but also lots of sun and warmth!) and I've done interesting things but I'm finding myself ready to return home. I guess it's that kind of lull in the year where I can see the end but it's just far enough out of reach where I can't comprehend what it's going to feel like. I'm pretty tired of struggling with Austrian-German and am looking forward to a time where I feel comfortable and not like an outsider. But I guess that's part of the big lessons of this year - learning how to keep myself happy, learning how to be okay with being a bit unhappy, and most of all learning patience. Which, unfortunately, can only be learned very slowly.