Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My First Day of Classes

“Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid.” –Franklin P. Jones

I have a feeling that I wasn’t the only one who could tell how afraid I was today. I felt like a Kindergarten student getting ready for class- I wore a new dress, hoped that the bullies with water balloons full of bleach didn’t attack me, and tried to put on my biggest smile. As I walked to class I literally stopped traffic as dozens of cars idled in the middle of the road to watch me. As I entered the Humanities building I could feel the watchful stares of the other students. It isn’t easy being white in a Latino world. My first class was scheduled to be “Sociology of Religion in the Caribbean.” I listened intently to a lecture about Buddism, surprised that there was a significant population of Buddhists in Puerto Rico, until I realized that I was in the wrong class. The professor never showed up for the class for which I am scheduled.

My second class was a survey course of Puerto Rican history. The professor spoke so quickly I could barely decipher words. Verbs, nouns, and pronouns ran together as though they were in a high-speed blender. I couldn’t pick out enough syllables that I could look up the words in my dictionary. Friends, this isn’t easy. I wanted to melt in my chair. I could feel my eyes widen in that deer-in-the-headlights way and I considered excusing myself from the class.

But, I’m not giving up. There are so many brave womyn who have tackled things so much bigger than this. As I sat in my chair waiting for the moment when I could return home I thought of all the times Hillary Clinton must be really scared. How does she get through? Rosa Parks must have been terrified when she sat on that bus and watched the scornful eyes of her peers of both races. I think that Clinton and Parks are able to be brave because they both know that they are working toward goals that are bigger than any of us can imagine. Without sounding cliché, I think that Hillary put on her big-girl panties every morning fully aware of the cracks that she was (and is) making in the proverbial glass ceiling. For me, studying in Puerto Rico isn’t just about eating new foods and taking classes- it is about working in the context of a different culture to build a better world. It is about building the fluency in the Spanish language that will be critical for my future work in development in South and Central America. It is about becoming flexible and aware enough that I can be placed in new setting and be fully functional.

I’ll never forget how kind my colleagues were to me today; the girls next to me even reviewed with me the homework assignment after class to be sure that I had written it down correctly. Unlike Rosa and Hillary who were met by the stares of hatred and disdain, I’m being met by stares of curiosity. All in all, I am in a wonderful position for cultural exchange. I am going to take some deep breaths and prepare for the five classes that I have tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I would have been scared out of my "big-girl-pants!" You did marvelously. It is a relief to me to know the other students are being helpful. To prepare for my Spanish class, I'm listening to a CD section read by a Puerto Rican and she speaks so fast I can really understand how much harder it would be when my ability to function in the class depended on understanding. Can you get a small, hand-held tape recorder and, thus, be enabled to listed several times? Regardless, good luck.