Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Connecting and communicating

"Ma'am, I have a doubt. How can I write this in the CV?"

There is language. And then, there is the culture of language. This line written in an email by someone seeking career advice from India opened floodgates of nostalgia. I used to speak the same English many years ago. "I have a doubt" in Indian English equates to "I have a question" in American English. Doubting something is a different thing altogether. I went back to my old documents, looking at the research statement I had written for graduate school in 2005. In my current age and wisdom, that can hardly qualify as a research statement, a page full of lofty ideas and goals of changing the world with no clear focus. If I was in the selection committee reading my essay from 11 years ago, I would have never admitted myself in the program. It's a miracle I made it. 

As I prepare to say goodbye to my host in Berlin, she tells me in a mix of broken English and German that she will miss having me around and will look forward to seeing me again. She was the one who hosted me last year as well, and although this is a pay-money-provide-service relationship (I was staying at her family-run place), she goes out of her way to touch my hand warmly and make me feel at home. I reciprocate, this time in my broken German and English, that her place is the only one I know as home in Berlin. I call her a day later to thank her and let her know I have reached home, and she is delighted. Language is not a barrier between us anymore.

And then, I receive an email from a close friend saying that she has been offered a faculty position at one of the top schools in her field. We have known each other for decades, and I am thrilled. But her words are filled with doubt and anxiety. In her email, she confesses that she is scared as hell and does not know how she will do well. Her self-doubt mirrors mine and her humility and honesty renews my soulful connection with her. That is the exact way I have been feeling as well. I have no idea how to be faculty. To see the same sentiments reflected in a person of high caliber with extensive training from several Ivy League schools only shows me how we are all human, sometimes terrified and vulnerable. I assure her that it will all be fine, that she is already a role model to many (including me) because of her achievements, and she will do great. I tell her that I have decided to frame those damn degrees on the wall facing me in office (as brilliantly suggested by a friend) so that whenever in self-doubt, those degrees will remind me of the immense amount of hard work and motivation it has taken to get to this point. In my friend's insecurities, I feel a renewed connection with her.

And just like that, in three different events with three different people on a random day, language connects my past, present, and future. A young and starry-eyed girl from India whose writing reminds me of who I used to be through our shared cultural nuances of language, a German lady who makes me feel at home in an unknown city despite her broken English and my broken German, and a childhood friend with a stellar career in whom I surprisingly see my insecurities mirrored because of the honest note she writes me.