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Lessons from non-native Spanish speaking

| Monday, February 6, 2017

The great irony of learning a new language is that you know you sound slightly “off” (read: horrible), yet you still have to practice to improve. To me, speaking Spanish as a non-native speaker often seems frustrating and silly, but in this sense, I believe I am like the typical Notre Dame student — afraid to show weakness, uncomfortable with not being the best, nervous to be vulnerable.

I recently returned to the U.S. after almost seven months in Spanish-speaking countries where communication and self-expression did not always come easily. While I now consider myself moderately fluent, I accept the fact that I have quite a ways to go. And, above all, I understand that I need to continue putting myself out there to get better; I need to try words out, ask for help on my accent and open-heartedly take feedback. To be concise, I have to be vulnerable. I only wish I had developed this skill earlier.

Around this time last year I was just a sophomore: one year younger, a few pounds lighter, naively content with the direction of American politics and noticeably unhappy with my surroundings. It sounds crazy, but amidst incredible friends, professors and opportunities, I found myself increasingly overwhelmed by an unknown pressure — a force molding me into someone I am not, the sense that I have to maximize my time here — to use the resources of ND; make life altering decisions (correct ones, for that matter); and all the while, sleep well, eat well and exercise daily. You might know the feeling.

I distinctly remember one Tuesday afternoon sitting by a window in Geddes, looking at the permacloud and thinking to myself, “How did I get here? How did I end up with a seemingly amazing life but an internal demon? Why can’t anyone see through me?” I had not spoken with anyone in many days. About three days later I dragged myself to St. Liam’s, where I started my road to recovery after what had been months of depression. It was hard ( … continues to be) and the feeling of loneliness remains vivid.

I’ll admit that I was embarrassed to tell my best friends about my mental health, to even confess to my loving roommates that perhaps I was not as happy as I let on. For some reason, I just could not allow myself to be vulnerable when vulnerability would have counted the most.

I will be completely transparent: I am nervous to be back on campus. I am slowly becoming comfortable with admitting this, but unfortunately, I have come to associate Notre Dame with stress and exhaustion; after so much time, I can only imagine how my body and brain will react to the changes. And, now, I can’t help but wonder how different my mindset would be had I admitted to my struggles before they manifested themselves physically last year. Perhaps I would be more positive about this semester, or just maybe I could have avoided all those months of emotional absence.

To be a student who also feels like a human, like someone with dignity, balance, joy and a desire to learn — that is what I want for myself and for all my peers this semester. But, I believe that this can only happen if we agree to be more vulnerable with one another; to be more willing to express our frustrations and negative thoughts in a healthy way; to be okay with not being the best; to accept our American accents and inability to roll “rr”s.

It is never too late to start being vulnerable with those around you. I, for one, am committed to opening up more and admitting to my thoughts. What I have come to realize is that behind the busy schedules of the Notre Dame community, there are so many people waiting and wanting to help you. We simply need to get uncomfortable.

Lauren O’Connell


Feb. 4

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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