My friend and fellow blogger recently sent me an email, inquiring about my well-being and the goings-on in my life in Israel. The following is an excerpt of my answer to her:
…First off I would like to tell you that I now more fully sympathize with your culture shock experience [In reference to her trip to and culture shock in Mexico while visiting yours truly] Two weeks ago (after 2 months of being here) my little brain finally realized I am actually in a different country. I walked around in the most stupefied daze for a whole week; like that feeling you get when you stay up way too late the night before, and your brain feels lighter than air. Everything seemed unreal and I felt slightly confused. This question involuntarily resounded in my head: “How the heck did I get here? What the heck am I doing here? “ Several times at work, my brain unconsciously conjured up the thought: “Maybe today everyone will speak in English or Spanish and not Hebrew. Then, we can all laugh and visit together because the big joke will be over.” But alas! This is not to be so. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when one of my coworker’s son started babbling at me in baby Hebrew: it was then I knew this was no joke. So, I talked to my Brazilian friend about how I felt, how pressured I was because I didn’t understand the language, pressured because I couldn’t speak Hebrew, pressured because we only have 3 months left of ulpan, frustrated because I can’t communicate with my coworkers and I felt really awkward. The fish we were sorting at the moment, I bathed in a few tears. After work, I spent a large part of the afternoon in the sunshine at a picnic table with another friend, who also encouraged me very much as, together, we analyzed the severity of the challenge that we voluntarily put ourselves into…
I don’t know what it is about talking things over with a sympathetic friend that makes everything much better and brings things into perspective.
I have come to understand by experience that every person has the need to express their thoughts, feelings, and outlook on life. But not just express them for the mere sake of saying them: we have the need to be understood by someone. The ache caused by so many pent-up thoughts and things left unsaid is incredible. Never had I realized how much I actually had to say — how much I wanted to say! –until I could not say it. I realize, now, that I took for granted the blessedness of simply opening my mouth and expressing whatever I wanted.
After three months of alternating between excruciating frustration caused by being unable to express myself and utter delight derived from knowing that someone understood me when I painstakingly stuttered where I worked and how much I loved my job, I think I may be becoming a more compassionate and person. Now, when I run into that one fellow ulpanist who only speaks Ukrainian and very basic English, I stop and take time to listen and truly try to understand what he is trying to say. I know that he — like I — needs to be understood, not just heard.