It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Something you never thought was possible. You find your mind flooded with thoughts over the following months hoping that you will be able to accomplish what you have in front of you. You set goals, you are afraid, scared and you know there is only one good outcome.
That is how I was feeling back in 2014 when I got selected for an exchange scholarship in Japan. Among all the students who applied for it, I was the only one who could not speak English. Maybe the one with less confidence overall but with the determination that I had to learn the language.
I honestly don’t know how I got selected, to this day I believe that my lack of language abilities was a deal-breaker when picking the one student to send to Asia for one year. But I know, that during the many interviews I went through, I was honest. Maybe the fact of understanding my own weaknesses made it easier to know why I was set to go there.
When I received the call for congratulations about being the chosen one, I remember I had mixed feelings. I was incredibly happy to know that the next year was going to change my life completely, at least until the extend I could understand. On the other hand, I was sad for knowing that I was making a promise that I was going to learn a language, that for more than 18 years I could not learn properly, and that would require a lot of effort. Maybe way more than I could imagine at that moment.
I remember myself, studying late evenings about words that I knew existed. Phrases that I read many times but never took the time to understand them. Constantly trying to find better ways to remember things I read many years ago. It was stressing to the point that one week before leaving my country, I thought of not going. I found myself in a place where the progress I was making was not enough. All the efforts that I was making, trying to place 8 years of language learning in 4 months, were not going to support the idea of me getting the scholarship. But I know that if I quit, it was going to be a decision I would regret for the rest of my life.
It was when I arrived at Haneda airport in Japan, that I realized that the hard work was paying off. That the words I was using were understood by the people who picked me. That I knew how to express that the 36 hours journey from Bolivia to Japan was so exhausting that the only thing I wanted was to sleep. And that, in the end, I was happy to be there.
I would say that the exposure I got to other English speakers helped me a lot to learn better. The university offered courses in English that I forced myself to take. And the combination with a new environment was the right one to feel confident with the new friends I got.
6 months later I got a job within the university (Soka University Japan), to support Japanese students in their language journey. Around 3 times a week I was in charge of few students to make them practice speak with others. I had exceeded my expectations of failure.
A new step
For a long period of time, I spent most of my evenings trying to read English books with no success. After my year in Japan, that completely changed. But the journey was not stopping there. 6 months after my return, I got an internship with IAESTE in Switzerland. After another process, that this time required me to know more about software development, I was ready to improve my skills in my knowledge area.
However, soon after my arrival I realized that my language skills were not enough to communicate with others about bugs, issues and tasks. Not knowing if what I was saying was right, I got shy. It was time to improve again.
Long nights studying, reading and watching English media were already a habit. Not reading enough wasn’t. With a poor reading speed, I knew I was facing again a big challenge.
Thankfully, the support of my boss and my co-workers was good enough to made me feel free. It was OK to fail, it was OK to make mistakes, I was not OK to be silent when feeling bad. It was the realization of the freedom of failure.
One would expect that after years working mainly in English, should be good enough already to live a life out of linguistic problems. I wouldn’t say that it was problematic but I believe that we would face the Expert syndrome: To believe that there is no more knowledge to get once we reach a certain point.
In a life where my life was work centered, thinking on creating a better world was not something that crossed my mind. But suddenly, some young people from Norway started a project to help others to create Social Impact startups. The YSI Global program was opening an application for its 2018 program. Something that crossed my life when I didn’t expect.
With more than 8500 applicants, being selected was a dream. I would explain a bit more about it in a different post. However, after being accepted into a team, I was faced with words that I never heard of. Sustainability, IPO, Unicorns were some of the words I heard and some of the ones that were going to make an impact in the following efforts I had to make. I joined a team that wanted to make an impact over SDG 4: Quality Education.
After 4 months into the program, a trip to Norway and talking with investors, clients and others, my language skills were expanding more than ever before. In the final pitch, my team supported me to be the one to deliver it.
TOEFL and TBB
I can say that after all of that, I was really comfortable communicating in English. It was a journey full of downs and some huge ups. Taking some decisions, I had to take the TOEFL test in June, 2019. All the effort, the stress, the problems faced lead to the point in my language jorney where I had to get a certificate to prove that I was able to use the language. I got 108/120 in the first try and this is a way to show that the journey was a fulfilling one.
Some weeks ago I was invited to the podcast of Tu Beca Bolivia (An organization that helps Bolivian students to get scholarships abroad.) You can listen to it below.
If I wanted to write this, was to help others understand that there might be certain things in our lives that we think are impossible to achieve but after trying, working, and believing, they can be accomplished. Even when your journey is full of stress, sadness, or even depression, you are capable of facing your own challenges and overcome them. Each one of us is strong enough to be what we want to be. And maybe, if we see things carefully, we can avoid a journey with so many obstacles, a journey that we enjoy and we are happy to share.