Do you know what it’s like to be sitting in a small room full of people who are speaking a different language than you?
I do. Terrifying.
Terrifying and intimidating. I feel guilty and inferior because most of the people know (at least) some English and I can only say hello and goodbye in German. Why was I in this situation? I decidedI wanted to make the most of our time living in Germany and I wanted L, my three year old, to attend German Kindergarten (Kindergarten in Germany refers to daycare/preschool for ages 3-6.)
So here I sat, nervously with my pre-schooler, in a circle of other parents and kids at orientation for a local Kindergarten. I should mention I had previously toured the school and know that one of the teachers speaks a little bit of English (she gave me a tour afterall) but when I received and translated the orientation invitiation I had no expectations of the orientation being in English. When the teacher walked in she began speaking to all of us and handed a notepad to me as I was the closest person she walked past. I sheepishly look up at her but she must not have remembered that I only speak English. I hesitantly raise my hand as she continues talking and another person calls her attention to me…
‘Sorry, what should I do with this?’
‘Oh, sorry please write your name so I know who is here.’
Embarrassing moment #1. I write my name and my child’s name beside it and wonder if I did it in the right format and if everyone after me laughed if I didn’t do it correctly. The teacher continues talking, I hear a couple people respond, and soon another Mom moves to sit beside me. I look at her confused. She says, ‘I speak English and German so I am going to translate for you.’
Oh thank God! – I think to myself. There isn’t even time to introduce ourselves because the orientation gets started and the last thing I want is to draw more attention to myself. Cue the awkward silences when the teacher pauses for my new friend to tell me in English what has just been said while everyone else is silent and looks at us.
My new friend was only able to translate for half of the orientation because her son became as restless as all of the other kids and she had to step outside with him for a little bit. L began to get restless as well but I wasn’t sure of the right protocol. Get up and let him go play outside because, well lets be honest I didn’t understand what they were saying anyways, or force him to sit there politely because that is the respectful thing to do. (Where is the manual for this situation!!)
I eventually cave in to the restless toddler and go outside to let him play. Soon after the orientation is done and each parent is sitting with the teacher individually to get what I assume to be a student handbook. Or parent handbook? I’m not exactly sure. And also to be given a start date for their child. I finally get to chat more casually with my new friend, who is German, but married to a US Soldier and can speak my language. Her children spoke both German and English. Another Mom comes over to say hello and talk to me. She is also German, married to a US Soldier and inquisitive of my decision to choose a German Kindergarten over a pre-school on base. I still worry if this is the right decision for my child. I go from one extreme of total excitement for the opportunity to the other of complete fear. A litle bit for L, but mostly for myself. He is three and such a social butterfly. He approaches all children on a playground and manages to socialize and play even when they don’t speak the same language. I don’t worry about him not learning enough of the basics to enter into regular school. Honestly I like the philosophy here that is a bit more laid back in academics for the pre school age group. I worry, mostly, about my own fears. Learning the language myself and blending in with the other parents. Ok, so I’m not going to blend, but I want to learn and I want Landon to gain incredible experience from living abroad.
So I faced my fears of walking into that room where I didn’t fully understand the language, and wouldn’t have even known if someone was speaking under their breathe about me, in hopes that three years from now we can look back on what an incredible experience we had in Germany. Really emercing ourselves in the culture and learning the language. Living on a military base means we have to take extra large steps out of our comfort zone to gain those experiences. Experiences I hope both of my children can carry with them for a lifetime.
Soon it was my turn to meet with the teacher. We have L’s official start date and my new friend is going to translate all of the paperwork in an email for me so that I am as prepared as I can be! We are on the right track and most importantly, L is excited to start at his new school. He loves it there! What more could a mother ask for.
We are Americans in Germany, trying to make the most of the opportunity in front of us.