Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lessons in Humility

When I applied for the Fulbright, I thought that it was a win-win situation.  If I didn't get it, I'd get to stay at home, with my husband and kids, and go back to teaching (including one of my favorite classes, 19th Century Europe).  If I did get it, obviously it's a big win -- feather in my cap, more time off, more research, and the opportunity to make more professional connections.

Mostly unspoken was the fact that it would also be a huge challenge.  Because I was a Chemistry major initially, I've only taken three semesters of college French -- the bare minimum to graduate.  There was a time, when I was single and in France and dating Frenchmen (or Tunisians or Italians, but in any case, men who spoke French with me), that my contemporary spoken French was pretty passable.  But that's not the case now.  I did most of my research in small chunks, split between Los Angeles, Green Bay, or St. Louis, and Paris.  My passive comprehension of 18th and 19th century written French is excellent.  But I live with Americans.  I almost never speak French.   So my spoken French is rusty *and* weaker than I would like.  Given how important language is to me, this is a particular embarrassment.  I hate sounding like a fool.  (And don't even get me started on my very American accent...)

So when I received notification of the award, there was a fair bit of "Oh my goodness" along with the "Woot!"

This current trip has certainly helped play that out.  I imagine (it may be true, but perhaps not) the librarians and archivists thinking, "This woman got a Ph.D.?  But her French!  Can she really work in this language?"

This is one reason I applied for the Fulbright.  I knew it would take me out of my comfort zone, which is really the only way to improve.

But being out of my comfort zone is, of course, uncomfortable.

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