People have been asking me for months what I’m most afraid of on this journey. I suppose that selling everything you own and moving to another country is pretty scary, but it hasn’t been too bad, honestly. I’ve had some fearful moments and I still get a little anxious feeling in my stomach with a racing heart when I’m trying to catch a bus to the right place. Yet, I think the scariest thing I’ve faced so far is the beginning of language school tomorrow afternoon. It IS exciting to be taking a step forward in something that will be so pivotal in my life and ministry in Peru, but I’ll admit it: I’m terrified.

The first day of school always brought jitters for me from elementary school through college. Who would be in my classes? Would I be able to find the right rooms? Who would my teachers be? Would I like my classmates and teachers? What would the workload and expectations be in the classes? Would I do well in the classes? Hopefully I’m not the only one who was nervous on the first day each year.

This “Español para Extranjeros” class has all those questions and more. Since the class is for any foreigner (extranjero), there won’t be any speaking in English because not all class members will be native English speakers. The new questions include: Will I be able to take the right buses to get to the school? Will I be able to communicate with anyone at all? How will I know what the homework is? Will I be able to get home in rush hour traffic? What in the heck have I gotten myself into?

I will admit that some of my anxiety goes back to when I was 16 years old. It’s a little frustrating that something that happened MORE than half my life ago could still affect me so profoundly, but I admit that it’s true. I left home to attend a boarding school my junior year of high school. I had always done well in school and the new school was supposed to provide a challenge. I was taking Spanish 2 because I’d only been allowed to start Spanish 1 as a sophomore due to a lack of language teachers at my first high school.

The first day of Spanish 2 class I suspected I was in trouble because my professor, Dr. Houpe, didn’t say much of anything in English. At least, that’s how I remember it. I was still counting on being able to do decently, though, until I took my first test. I passed by the skin of my teeth.  I made a 70 – the lowest grade I’d ever seen to date. I called my parents crying and begging to move back home, but they wisely told me that I should stick it out in the new school. For someone who had always been academically successful and found much worth in doing so, seeing that grade on my first test put up a mental block in my mind. Rather than accepting the challenge of figuring out how to be successful, I let myself believe that I was not going to excel at Spanish. I did manage to get out of the class with A’s and B’s, but I didn’t choose to progress to the 3rd level. Even in college I didn’t take more language. My major would accept 2 years of high school language classes as long as I had A’s or B’s, so I was fine with not having to face the humiliation further.

I don’t like to use shyness as an excuse either, but I do think I was afraid to speak in class (and I still am, to some extent). This was true in any class, though especially in Spanish. By college I figured out that I had to make myself talk on the first day of class (in any class I took), or I would spend the entire semester mute. I wasn’t really keen on participating. I would rather observe and then process the material on my own time, but I could also see the advantage of being known by the professor in a class. I had to work myself up before every class if I knew I needed to talk, a task that I know is quite foreign to my extroverted readers. I also know some people have trouble believing that I’m introverted, but it’s true. Even though I often operate as an extrovert in situations that are known and comfortable to me, it takes a lot of energy to do so. It will take all of my energy to operate like that in a new situation tomorrow afternoon.

I am trying to remind myself of all the truths that should make tomorrow less scary, but it’s not helping much. I know that everyone else in the class will be as new to this system of learning as I am (unless they already know multiple languages). I also know that God has called me on this road and will equip me to learn the language. I also think of Dr. Houpe, my Spanish 2 teacher. He passed away a couple of years ago, but he was a really neat man. I figured out later what an interesting guy he was and wished I’d known him better during class. He spoke 11 languages (9 fluently and 2 others conversationally) and had a really dry sense of humor. He’d say some funny things without ever cracking a smile. Someone later told me that sometimes when he was speaking lots of Spanish (when I was convinced that I couldn’t understand) that he was telling stories. One of his favorite characters in the stories was apparently “La Mala Gallina,” though I never figured that out. One day when I finally understood something he said, I realized he was talking about singing in the shower. I laughed a bit and he looked at me and asked, “Tu cantas en la ducha?” I replied, “Si, canto en la ducha.” I may not have understood much that year, but I’ve never forgotten the words for sing and shower! If only I could convince my brain to think of that moment and to remember the successes instead of the failures! Tomorrow I confront my fears and failures in Spanish.

So perhaps you can see that between first day jitters, a mental block from age 16, and my introverted nature, the first day of Spanish class is Peru is one of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered on this journey so far. By tomorrow evening I may be singing an entirely different tune, but from this vantage point, I’m shaking in my boots. I know that the Lord will grant me grace and mercy for this step in the journey, but your prayers are welcomed too! I know this language learning time is a vastly important part of that which He has for me.