on jumping in.

Right now I’m writing my preliminary language test for an application to be considered for an internship in Germany next summer, and I noticed something.

The question was, “Was haben Sie an Ihrem bisherigen Deutschunterricht besonders gut oder schlecht gefunden?”

What do you consider particularly good or bad about your German studies up to this point?

I was writing my answer, and I was rambling. Trying to use all my vocabulary. “Das finde ich wichtig,” I wrote, and something clicked.


March 2014, in my first dorm room, alone, on a Skype interview. “Det tycker jag är jätte viktigt,” I said.

Not the first time the audible similarities between German and Swedish have had me tripping.

Not the first time I’ve been reaching for something to say in a language I’m rusty in, trying to stretch my knowledge as far as it will go, hoping beyond hope that it will be enough, that it will prove that I can swim well enough that I should be allowed and even encouraged to dive in.

In that fateful Skype interview, Kajsa (now my beloved boss of three and counting years) said kindly that she understood it was sometimes hard to switch your brain from one language to another so quickly, and then asked me a question in Swedish and listened patiently as I gave my rambling answer, surprising even myself with how much I could actually say. And when I finally shut up, she said, “Wow, your Swedish is fantastic! How many years were you a villager, again?”

Something in me started to float away, and the next three summers were sealed. Not just because Kajsa gave me a compliment. More because I needed it so much when it came. I had made the jump just applying; I was terrified to be on that interview; I was still struggling from the all-too-common shock that comes when a gifted high school student goes to college and realizes that she is out of her depth in nearly everything she used to be able to swim in.

I took the leap, and the water met me and lo and behold I came up shivering and sputtering and swearing and shaking my head but no one had heard us and the stars were out and twinkling and friends were laughing all around me. There wasn’t any question anymore.

What I am hoping now is this.

May this particular rambly leap also be into water in which I can swim.

May I be granted yet another chance to make that splash and come up with sputters and swears that one day will become coherent, if still sputtery.

May the water, if cold, be forgiving.

But also, though not to be unduly pessimistic, it may not be. I may not even look strong enough to swim to those who decide, let alone strong enough to thrive.

May I then, despite everything, never draw away in self-pity and bitter rejection.

May I, never mind what happens, always be ready to leap into the learning of a new language.

May I remember what it is that is wichtig: the fear and the want and the wild abandon of joy that comes with that leap, metaphorical or not.




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