In the corner of a Buddhist temple, in a room with a tile floor and no chairs, we started our English lesson. We had come halfway across the world and had already been in Southeast Asia a week, teaching and promoting the program that had partnered with us. The women in front of me and my teaching partner were studying at the Buddhist school to be masseuses.
It quickly became clear to us that our students were having a hard time understanding what we were trying to teach. Out of desperation, my partner and I decided to try singing a song. We’d heard during training that students really enjoyed dancing and singing to break the ice. Jumping to our feet, we began doing hokey-pokey-like movements to the song “Singing in the Rain.” Our two national partners hesitantly joined us.
We smiled, moving energetically, and the women stared at us in shock and, I suspect, confusion. Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I detected hints of disagreement in their eyes. Heat crept up my cheeks. They didn’t move a muscle. After exchanging multiple embarrassed glances, my teaching partner and I dropped the act. We weren’t enjoying it, and neither were they.
The day didn’t get better. Class felt like wadding through mud. No one seemed to learn anything. After that, I didn’t want to go back. I felt humiliated. I was trying to help, and instead I felt like I had insulted them in some way.
People were missing from class the next day, leaving obvious holes. Shoving through the awkwardness, we started the lesson on directions, focusing on the words “left” and “right”. I tried all the tricks up my sleeve. Pressing my knees into the cold tile, I leaned in and persisted in trying to get my point across. Finally, the woman I was teaching let out a small exclamation. Her head bobbed and she smiled. She understood! I beamed.
Most of the rest of the class was spent playing a game my teaching partner had made up on the spot. One person closed their eyes while their friend gave them directions in English to reach a candy on the floor. Everyone was smiling, laughing, and actually learning.
That day, my friend and I were ecstatic about what had happened. Over a meal of garlic chicken, rice, and Pad Thai we shared our success with the rest of our teammates.
Yes, you might embarrass yourself. You will go outside of your comfort zone! But if you push through, you might find your confidence grow. Something happens when people see you are willing enough to try and fail. Perhaps you will lose some momentum, but those who choose to keep learning from you despite your awkwardness will be those that stay with you forever.