If we’ve had a heart to heart within recent months, I may have told you about the joys and struggles of my life as a foreigner. One of them being the joy (struggle) of language acquisition.
I was one of only a couple people in my bunch that didn’t start my Journeyman term with intensive language school. “I already know Spanish.” I told myself.
Oh how naive I was.
While my accent is still slightly noticeable, most people here seem pretty surprised when I tell them I’m American. I am usually met with a tilted head and a response equivalent to “Huh.” Which is usually followed by “But your Spanish is so good . . ?” It’s true; I can communicate myself well enough. But I’m not really sure if that is a credit to my Spanish at all. It seems like the overall impression here is that Americans just suck at the language, which, yeah . . . might be kind of true.
I hardly have any right to complain. I came to a country where I already “knew the language” after all. Most of my other compadres are in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa, where of course the local dialects aren’t taught in most American public high schools. (Can you say clicking language?) So yeah, I realize I have an advantage.
But here is something I never considered. While I can communicate pretty much anything I need to say, I haven’t quite reached the ability to communicate everything I want to say. At least, not in the way I’d like to say it. Sarcasm doesn’t quite translate. Jokes? Not so much. Deep, intelligent conversations about matters of the heart or of faith are made too simplistic with my clumsy, imprecise vocabulary.
These days Spanish is the great identity thief, robbing me of my ability to speak my mind, robbing me of spontaneity, and humor–so many of the qualities that make me who I am. It’s a true testament to the power of language and how it has quite literally made me a different person. Spanish-speaking Kelsey has a different personality than English-speaking Kelsey, which is precisely the cause of my frustration. I can’t be the witty, sharp, occasionally smart-mouth person that I consider myself to be, pridefully having honed those little aspects of myself for 23 years. Instead, I feel a little bit . . . slow. I laugh at jokes late, if I even get them at all. I nod to show I understand what’s being said but it’s work just to keep up in the conversations of others, let alone interject my own thoughts. In truth, I’m not sure English-speaking Kelsey would even want to be friends with Spanish-speaking Kelsey.
And then the world tells me this all the time: You need to learn to love yourself. But you see, friend/family member/random person who stumbled onto this blog, that is precisely the problem. I love myself far too much. I cling to my own personality traits as if they are the essence of my worth and reject those who do not have them. No, I don’t need to learn to love myself. I do that well enough.
I need to let myself go.
Not in the stop-exercising, no-makeup sort of letting myself go. More of the “He must become greater, I must become less” sort.
As I set out to mold my concept of identity, scraping off layer after layer, this is one that hurts. I know my identity isn’t defined by my paycheck, or by my accomplishments or failures, or by my relationships. But is it not even defined by own personality? The way God made me? Do I have to be willing to let that go too?
For now it seems, yep. For now, this is my form of dying to self. For now, this is the bread that God has given me and I will humbly consume it.
After all the layers are peeled away, the core of my identity lies only in whom I serve, in whom I aim to please. At the end of my life, may it never be said of me that I lived to please myself, or even others, be it the whole world or just one person. I answer to God, and he’s the one I will live for. In truth it is God doing all the scraping anyways, just as it was God who brought me to this place, where they speak this language. And it will be God who gives me the strength and clarity to find the words I need.
God, my father, the provider of my faith and my words.