We all have our little victories. This week, mine took the shape of a door. This one door marks my journey towards feeling a little more at home in this foreign country.
Over the years, one of the things that has bothered me the most in my time spent in Europe is related to the swing of the doors. I know it really isn’t that big of a deal. But it is. The doors in the US swing in a predictable way. I swear, there is no predicting the doors in Europe. It’s confusing. I am often required to push when everything inside me says “pull, you fool”. To be fair, most important doors actually say PUSH, in big shiny letters (although usually the letters are in another language). So why should I be surprised that every time I rush down the hall and through the door I almost knock myself out. Every time I excitedly jaunt toward my big outside adventures, feeling competent and invincible, I am stopped by the door that refuses to be pulled. It is as if the door is whispering to me “you really aren’t that smart. You can’t even open a door.”
When I spent the month of September in Vienna with my students, the door became a symbol; a symbol of humility, a symbol that I will never be good enough, a symbol that no matter how many times I say “things are different here–not better or worse–just different”, I felt deep in my soul that they actually weren’t different here–they were worse. In fact, one of the few times I “lost it” during my time in Vienna was, after doing a face plant into the door, I decided I had had enough–enough of screwing up how I say excuse me, of getting yelled at by shop owners and grocery cashiers, of ordering a donut only to find it filled with jelly, of getting stuck in a tram because I couldn’t figure out how to open the stupid door.
Traveling to other countries is certainly full of adventures. But it is often the little things that can wear on a person’s feeling of competence. After a while those little things begin to pose a threat to one’s identity. And that doesn’t feel good. That’s why my door victory is so sweet. I knew how symbolic that front door was for me my first day in Toruń, so I committed myself from day one to think about the door before I got there. And slowly, it has become natural. Slowly, I am feeling more culturally competent each time I open the door. Slowly I am willing to open more doors to learn new lessons. Slowly, my identity as being a smart woman is re-emerging. Not every aspect of life here is natural or comfortable. I still make a lot of mistakes and still struggle with feeling competent, but, at least today, my door victory shall be celebrated. And in case you are afraid I am getting too swollen-headed, no fears, I start Polish language class on Monday.