“schläfst du? In class? Oooooooooooooooooh,”
he exclaimed and both us burst out laughing uncontrollably. The teacher looked annoyed.
Along the way in my travels, I ended up taking a language course with a bunch of people from around the world. My desk mate was a youngster K from one of those countries ripped apart by war and hadn’t yet crossed his teens. K was the only one in class who spoke his mother tongue and no other. The rest of us spoke at least two languages. At all times we had some basic reference to how this new language worked. Not so for K. Nevertheless communicating with him was always fun.
The first day he walked in he asked a million and one questions—at least it felt like a million. All through the course he never shied away from speaking, even if he didn’t make some of the sounds in the new language. He raised his hand to participate, even when some others sniggered. He spoke to everyone in class and could laugh at himself. There were others in class who were much better at learning languages but I was sure that K would learn the language faster because he didn’t feel embarrassed to take the risk and speak it.
As a student, this kid fascinated me. His plan was to take all the 8 levels in the language course and then start afresh with English. Why? He said he had come to this country to go to college and he needed both these languages to study there.
Little by little I learned more about K’s life. He was one of twelve kids, most of his family was still in the war torn country and there were no prospects for him to go to college there because of the political limitations. His parents and his brothers contributed funds, and so he had to choose the cheapest accommodation and watch his money. K spent freely on his educational resources but stuck to fast food places for food to stay within his daily food allowance. He asked around for deals on other necessities and did his homework every day. At first he couldn’t afford internet at home, so he religiously went to the library and used the net there, especially to research on the day’s lessons through google translate and other programs. He went to dance clubs with friends even if all he did was jump and didn’t drink alcohol. He was just a cheerful kid with a definite plan.
This kid defied all the stereotypes of his countrymen being warmongers who resisted bettering themselves. One day he said, “You know what? If I study now, when things settle down in my country I will be able to go help put things right. They’ll need people who know how to do other things besides fight.”
How do some kids grow up with this resilience? I wish I could bottle that magic formula…he was certainly a joy to be around. Everyone in class recognized it and I could see that the teacher too enjoyed having him in her class.
Oh, the comment I quoted was on the last day of our class together…I had managed to fall asleep in class!!!