Little Frustrations That Lead to Big Improvements

Little Frustrations That Lead to Big Improvements

By Patricia

“Sawadika!” a stewardess woke me up with a friendly smile on her face. From her language, I realized that I had arrived in Thailand and my trip to only speak in English had begun.

“Hi! You must be Patricia!” a staff member with a big smile hurried to where I was in the crowded and noisy airport like a savior. I was wandering around the scheduled meeting place in a daze, “Your friends are already there waiting for you!”

I gave her an inhibited smile and did not know how to continue chatting. Luckily, we arrived and joined the group quickly. She left as soon as I sat down in the circle of the Rustic Pathways volunteer group.

“Hi! My name is Patricia,” I said with a smile on my face. I think I successfully belied my nervousness of facing a new group of people who do not speak the same language as me. I hesitated to introduce myself because I didn’t know which name I should tell them. Chinese names aren’t like English names, and are not easily pronounced by English speakers. So, it was not that I did not want to tell them my “real” name, but that it would be easier for my new companions to memorize my name if heard in English.

Next to me sat a girl from Turkey. She was the only one in the group who was also from Asia, but her first language was also English. She smiled at me and was interested in my cultural background. I stammered as I spoke because I was not used to having conversations in English even though I listened to English speaking teachers at school all the time. She was patient and would always listen until I finally finished my sentences. She would also correct my grammar.

The entire ride from the airport to our volunteer base, Kayla and I discussed Korean pop music and Korean dramas. However, when another girl named Avery came and joined our small group, I felt a bit stressed and discriminated against because Avery would mainly talk with Kayla. She refused to look at me when she talked, which, often left me with a complacent smile. She would not even wait for my reply even though I had been standing around Kayla.

When I tried to join their conversation, Avery did not have the patience like Kayla to listen to my entire sentence. Instead, she would interrupt me and I felt offended, wondering about her hostility towards me. Feeling exhausted and lonely, I started to think of how to deal with this situation. I came up with an idea and made up my mind before falling asleep that night – I would talk more and faster tomorrow!

It was not that I hadn’t been exposed to the English-speaking world before, but I was not used to speaking and chatting in English. Furthermore, it is always strange to me for people to use academic words during a light chat. However, since I already made up my mind, I determined to follow through on my plan.

Starting from breakfast, I started to talk with everyone as fast and as clearly as possible. To express my ideas out loud and join the conversation showed my ability to understand what they were talking about. Kayla look amazed when she first heard me talking like that. She later would wink at me whenever I started stammering again to show her support.

Due to my improvements, Avery no longer had the advantage of being the only fluent English speaker. She was forced to listen to my whole conversation when it was my turn to speak. (It felt like competing for the companionship of Kayla, but anyways, my English speaking was stimulated due to Avery’s impatient interruptions and my feeling of being discriminated.)

“I didn’t know you could speak English that well!” Kayla whispered to me before we went to bed.

“Well…” I glimpsed all over the bedroom to Avery’s face, not surprised to catch a look of jealousy, even as she tried to hide it, “I guess a little pressure can help break through the impossibilities!” I joked.

I kind of felt sorry for her because it was a personal conversation between Kayla and myself. It’s just the second night. She might have been doing what she did that morning just because she was feeling as unsafe as I was and probably trying to prevent herself from being discriminated against by the whole group. I decided to take a chance on her.

“Avery!” I called her with a welcoming smile, “Come join us!”

She blushed and ran quickly towards the corner where Kayla and I were staying. Kayla and I both laughed out loud and three of us all had a great time that night.

This story was republished from Patricia’s blog with her permission.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in Thailand, or view more Alumni Stories here