Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Learning Curve

Never let it be said that I have ever lied about my (in)ability to learn new things. It takes me months to learn the names of new people I meet, I can’t remember my own phone number let alone someone else’s, and the idea of having to learn a new skill sends me into fits. Thus, you can imagine how I felt this past week meeting dozens of other new Institution arrivals with whom I shared a “classroom” while attempting to learn Arabic.

Before I share my new linguistic skills with you, allow me to put it all into perspective…

Last week, Hubby and I enjoyed our first ever “new country orientation” in three and a half years of living abroad. And, I must admit, it was lovely. Imagine working for an organization that cares enough about its employees to teach them and their families about the ins and outs of their new locale, gives you a buddy family to take you around when you arrive, and holds parties to introduce newbies to the old guard. We had heard rumors of companies like this but never actually experienced it first hand. It was lovely to feel welcomed by Hubby’s new company for a change.

The first day of the orientation was spent at the Institution’s new location out in the middle of nowhere. For a place that is supposed to be up and working by the first week of September, they have a bit of work to do yet. Not only was Hubby’s office not yet ready to view, the building wasn’t even finished. The buildings we did see, however, boasted of great promise in their lovely architecture and high-tech gadgetry.

The part of orientation that most people were looking forward to was the three days of survival Arabic classes. During these hours, we would learn everything from how to get a taxi, ordering food in a restaurant, and how to hold a polite (if brief) conversation. Before you start thinking that I am now fluent in Arabic, allow me to burst both of our bubbles – unlike the great linguist Hubby, I only managed to retain a handful of phrases.

Arabic is a much harder language to learn than any of my previous linguistic outings. For example, in Arabic, Garden City is Gardin Citee and delivery, we were told, is deeliveree. How do they expect me to learn all this?!

Jokes aside, I found the way we were taught to be counterintuitive and while I was able to parrot our teachers when needed, I retained very little. Luckily, the Institution offers its employees (and their learning challenged spouses) free private tutors. These tutorials normally cost $40/hour so they are not only a wonderful benefit but also a great deal.

Outside of it being ridiculously hot 24/7, I still haven’t formed any solid opinions about living in Cairo. Every time I start liking it, something happens to remind me what a misogynistic society I am now living in. But thanks to my Arabic classes, I will soon be able to tell off the whistlers, cat callers, and impolite men in their own language. I can’t wait.


Anonymous said...

Nice sunset (I don't think it was sunrise!), what is hello, goodbye, thank you (phonetically please!) in arabic?

Connie said...

It is not just Arabic, it is Egyptian - which is a much more interesting language. ah well, communication isn't that hard because people are usually friendly and very willing to work with you.

The weather was much nicer today (Weds) - figures, my AC was finally fixed yesterday!

Anonymous said...

Cultural orientation... ah what a novel idea! Enjoy it :)