Do you remember the TV show “The Magic School Bus”? Or, more specifically, the eccentric, fearless, red-headed teacher Ms. Frizzle? Ms. Frizzle was an somewhat of an idol of mine- fearless, bold, and always ready for adventure. She pushed her students to learn outside the classroom, and told her students to “Take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!”
I am a total control freak, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I dislike mistakes. I dislike messiness. And I much prefer to stay inside my nice, happy bubble and not take any chances. But I’m not here to stay inside my bubble. I’m here learn, and to make mistakes, and to have experiences that pull me outside my own comfort zone in order to better understand another culture.
For the past two weeks I have been staying with a host family in the Zapote neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica. I have struggled through dinners where I can only follow about 40% of the conversation (on a good day). I have learned how to get around a neighborhood without any of the comforts American neighborhoods offer (working GoogleMaps, English speakers, etc.). I have taken interesting taxi rides and asked for directions in Spanish and tried to navigate my way around a city that I swear does not have a single straight street. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and taken a few interesting chances and I have learned so much. To me, this feels like success.
That’s not to say it’s all adventure and laughter living in a new country. Sometimes, I want nothing more than the comfort of my own bed and my mom’s mac and cheese. Sometimes I become so frustrated with the language that I feel as though I haven’t learned a single thing, and long for the ease and comfort English offers. Sometimes, all I want is a working cell phone and my car and to not have to rely on my own two feet or taxi drivers. Sometimes my inner control freak takes over and sometimes the messiness feels overwhelming.
I think, ultimately, the beauty of studying abroad has been through this-finding the joy in the messiness all around you. Finding joy in the fact that “brownies” is the same in both languages, or learning that Costa Ricans call sloths “oso perezoso” which literally translates into “lazy bear.” Feeling joy when you successfully converse with a non-English speaker in Spanish, or when you finally grasp a difficult concept. Finding joy when your host family laughs at one of your poorly executed Spanish jokes.
The joy and the successes make the mistakes, the chances, and the mess worth it. Though it scares me, I fully intend to honor my childhood heroine and continue to “Take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!” for the sake of learning.