Transformation – that’s my word for this fall. Sitting in a classroom, the stage comes to life, the word echoes – transformation. Funny how once I’ve noticed a thing it seems to suddenly be everywhere I look. I’ve been writing, thinking, and reading about transformation to a great extent these past few weeks and yet it’s only now (why must I always feel like writing at 3am?) that I actually understand it. How’d I get to this point? I’ve just left behind my life as I knew it, stopping to hibernate for 4 months before being reborn as a student. Well, that and I was just watching Extreme Makeover (hey, what else is on at 3am?). Amazing things, those archetypal epiphanies.
In preparation for this column, I sat down and concentrated on my experiences thus far as a student at IUP. Mostly I find myself pondering, in relation to my own teaching, “Oh, so that’s how my students must have felt.” To make the entire experience of being a doctoral student that much more enriching, I’ve challenged myself to study foreign language and so there I sit with twenty undergraduates, every bit the student, and yet also watching with the eye of a teacher. Why study language? I have two primary motivations: 1) to help remind me of my students’ experiences as language learners and 2) to selfishly try to learn as much as possible while the opportunities abound. Ah, if only all of our students wanted to understand their instructors’ experiences and “learn as much as possible”…just think how different our jobs would be! Hmmm, perhaps I should take a greater interest in my own instructors (?).
So back to transformation and archetypal epiphanies: I’ve asked myself what I’ve learned from my experiences thus far and my answer follows. I find myself talking with my fellow language learners and offering pearls of observational wisdom. Recently, in response to the complaint that it was difficult to remember what had been learned the previous week, I offered: “It’s really tough to study a language without being able to use it and practice it. I mean, after class, who do you speak with? Who do you write to?” And then there’s this sage reflection: “One has to find his voice in a foreign language in order to really connect with it, almost as if he was constructing an identity with both a need and desire to learn it.” I not only said it, I understood it.
And even though I’ve sat down to write this column and concentrated on my experiences thus far, and reflected on what I’ve been moved to offer my language classmates, I’ve also realized that I’m not entirely sure what I feel. It’s a bit like looking into a washing machine and trying to describe the contents. I suppose I’ll have a better perspective and better feel for all of this once I get to the other side of the bridge. For now, I’m content to just go with the flow.