I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands for a very special training! I got to spend two days in a huge, luxurious barn (now outfitted for humans) and experience the beautiful southwestern Dutch countryside, full of incredible trees…
…unexpectedly considerately quiet chickens that made no noise until long after I’d awoken, and amazing smells! (Unfortuately I don’t have a picture of the chickens or the smells.)
On my way to the training, taking the country-wide commuter rail from the Amsterdam airport, I was checking out the commuter rail map, and I couldn’t believe it.
At the bottom of the map was… Paris!
My heart leapt. This felt like looking at the Washington DC Metro map and finding it went all the way to Cuba or Buenos Aires!
So the morning my training was complete, I did one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. My leaping heart led the way, and I decided that later that day I was going to Paris with absolutely no plans.
I bought myself a ticket and got to experience the European high-speed rail (which felt kind of like a cross between the Hogwarts Express and the Starship Enterprise). On the train I managed to find a hotel room … and the adventure began.
It was a crazy blend of having moments of complete euphoria, where I just felt overjoyed for no reason except that I was in Paris and everything was so beautiful that I felt like my head might just explode. And then moments of complete overwhelm, where I was totally exhausted and confused.
But what surprised and delighted me the most of all wasn’t that I could buy roasted chestnuts from the street vendors at the Christmas market. It wasn’t that there was gluten-free patisserie run by incredibly sweet people. It wasn’t the autumn beauty of the Jardin de Tuleries, or walking into the Sacre Coeur cathedral in Montmartre and realizing that nuns were singing.
What surprised me the most of all was that I could actually communicate in French! After not using it AT ALL, whatsoever, for AT LEAST 11 years.
Just to give you some context, I had been to Paris before, right after I graduated from high school, and just two years or so after studying French academically.
On that trip, even though my French was WAY fresher in my mind, I didn’t actually have much success communicating with anyone. Plus my parents, who both speak some French, were happy to lead the way.
But on this recent trip, somehow I was having conversations, in French, about relatively complex topics like, is this dog lost at the Christmas market, or does he belong to someone nearby? (In case you’re worried, his name is Elvis and he belongs to the lady who works at the nearby restaurant, and just likes to walk around in front).
Even more surprising to me was how the vast majority of Parisiens went out of their way to talk to me in French, and how patient and lighthearted they were as I expressed myself with my limited vocabulary, and how much we were actually able to talk about together.
I really tried to figure out, what is it that had changed?
Then I realized.
It was my Indonesian language training.
Several years ago, I learned Indonesian in a total immersion environment, that coincidentally also seemed to train me to be extremely friendly, polite, and assertive in a foreign language.
It also trained me to be playful, experimental, and completely not worried about doing something wrong (unlike my more typical French language courses where any mistake I made out loud could dock my grade).
Somehow, this experience was SO internalized that it came out when I was speaking a completely different language!
I noticed it again when I was at a Dutch grocery store, trying to figure out which type of jam I should take home to my family. The grocery store guy spoke great English but couldn’t remember the names of the berries, so I just guessed what I thought it might be and he would tell me whether or not it was right. It was a totally fun game, and he kept exclaiming, “You should work here!” because my berry guesses were somehow so accurate!
At one point, there was one jar we couldn’t figure out. He went to grab a colleague. This guy was a berry expert, and told me what everything was, and what he thought was the best.
Somehow, this completely ruined the game. My heart sank.
Why? Why was it so fun and successful with the first guy who couldn’t remember the English names?
With the first guy, I felt safe, I felt like I could make mistakes, and I was having fun! And I was LEARNING. With the second guy, it was all about his expertise and had nothing to do with me trying to figure it out. It was completely passive and while informative, sadly boring. And I wasn’t learning. I was just watching.
It made me realize that not only is it super helpful as a learner to be playful and experimental, but, that you need to have someone who is willing to be playful and experimental with you. If they just want to tell you everything while you stand there and listen, it doesn’t matter how playful and experimental you are.
For me, when I’m learning, it is so important to be in an environment with someone else where I feel safe, where I feel like I can make mistakes, and where I can have fun.
In fact, these elements are so important to me, that’s how I work with all my own students! (So much so that this is what I think about even when I’m on vacation!)
So, if you or your kid is struggling with math and having a “overwhelmed in Paris moment” instead of a “euphoric beauty in Paris moment”…
if you are sick and tired of being in a math situation where someone just tells you everything and doesn’t help you learn to figure it out on your own…
if you want to not only transform your relationship with math, but also gain skills that help you become way more experimental, assertive, and proactive in other subjects…
I would love to talk to you.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call at 617-888-0160. We can set aside a totally special one-hour appointment as my gift to you, to figure out what is going on in your math situation, get clear on what you want instead, and explore whether or not the way I work makes sense for you.
I can’t wait to hear from you!
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