Learning a new language: There's just nothing else like it

Kari Burks is an MSU student and currently teaches yoga at Yoga State. Follow her at @_kariedaway.

Growing up I never dreamed of speaking a foreign language. I never even gave much thought to speaking anything besides English until it just kind of fell into my lap in 8th grade. My dad had gotten remarried to a French woman, and we were required to take a language in school. Everyone was taking Spanish, and I have always liked to be a little different. So I took French. And then I fell in love. Yes, with the beautiful French language, but also with who I was when I spoke French. I was just a little more sassy; more flowy; more confident. I loved the idea of being able to express who I was in a different way with the help of a new language. 

Fast forward to my junior year of high school. My family hosted a foreign exchange student from Belgium, Celine. To this day, my best friend. They speak French in Belgium, did you know that? So we got to speak French all of the time in front of my parents, and they had no idea what we were saying. The best. In the summer of 2012 I traveled for six weeks around Europe with Celine. And I can remember very clearly this one night. The scene: we were in Brussels at night, sitting at an outdoor bar in a narrow street-lit alley with cobblestone beneath our feet. I was drinking a very strong cherry beer and laughing and communicating with all of these new friends. New people who I would have never been able to communicate with if I didn't learn a foreign language. 

And isn't communication key? Such an integral part of solving problems? I HAD to learn another language and open more doors of communication. Spanish was next. But instead of the traditional classroom setting, I decided to just move to Peru for three months and learn it that way. Well, my epiphany of communication blew up in my face when I arrived and didn't know that language. I couldn't talk with anyone. And so I learned something maybe even more important than communicating. I learned how to listen. How to truly listen. Not the kind of listening where you're hearing what someone says but you're not really digesting it because you're just coming up with what you want to say next. But the kind of listening that takes your whole being to stay so present just to comprehend what someone is telling you. And as I listened to what the people of the community were telling me, I realized that what we all want is pretty simple: basic needs met, good friends and family, support, and happiness. 

I was teaching yoga down there at the time and I kept that in mind; to keep it all simple. To use the simple Spanish phrases I picked up and breathe through the postures with my students. And stay simple and calm in my mind as I did something that really scared me - teach in a foreign language I barely knew. 

It's a good thing to be scared. To have the fears of being judged, of doing everything wrong and of being completely embarrassed. And to try anyway. To let all of the judgment and mistakes run off of you just like water. To laugh off the embarrassment and try again. And again. And again. I feel like I have found the best tool to helping me be successful, open-minded and happy. Learning a new language - there's just nothing else like it.

– Story by Kristen Gmerek