Making Friends

“I don’t think I’m going to make any friends in Germany,” Dylan spoke from the back seat of my Camry back in May.
“Why would you say that?” I asked.
He crossed his arms over his chest and glared out the window. “Because I don’t want to.”
“Well, you’re probably right then.” I smiled and added, “But why don’t you want to?”
I pulled up to a stop light and turned to him. He looked back at me. His eyes shifted from defiant to sad. “Because I don’t want my friends here to get mad at me.”
“Oh, buddy. I don’t think they’ll be mad at you for making new friends.” I reached out and touched his knee.
He turned his attention back to the window.

I’ve thought about that conversation more times than I can count since moving here. I hoped he’d come around by the time school started. And on Monday when I dropped him off, I did so with a prayer that he would find at least one friend this week. Someone he can relate to, play with and sit with at lunch. I knew better than to bring up our past conversation, but his words still echoed in my thoughts when I hugged him goodbye.
When school let out I met the boys with enthusiasm, excited to hear how each of their days went.
“I made a new friend!” Evan proclaimed right away.
“That’s great! What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, but he likes Minecraft,” Evan smiled ear to ear.
I laughed. “That’s good, I guess.”
Dylan was quiet though.
“And how was your day?” I asked. “Did you make any new friends?”
“No.” Just one word, no explanation.
“Who did you sit with at lunch?” I probed further.
“Two sixth graders.”
“Did you talk to them?”
“No. They talked to each other.”
I tried not to look as bummed as I felt. “Well, maybe tomorrow, huh?”
He shrugged on his way up the stairs. “Yeah, I’m going to go email my friends from Loveland.”
He still looked okay though. He wasn’t sad, just matter-of-fact.
On Tuesday Evan announced his accumulation of more friends. Dylan reported the same as the day before. I wondered if I should say something, encourage him beyond what I already had. But my gut told me to leave it, to let him get there on his own.
On Wednesday I heard the same report from both kids.
On Thursday, Dylan didn’t want to go to school. Unlike the days leading up to it when he still wore a smile on his face and seemed alright, he moped around the house a bit. He rode his bike slower, and when I dropped him off, he hung back a ways from the other kids.
“Get up there,” I finally said. I couldn’t help it anymore. “Go talk to some kids.”
“I don’t know them,” he told me.
“And you never will if you don’t talk to them.”
Dylan slumped his shoulders and marched forward. I didn’t know whether to feel good or bad about it.
Then in the afternoon, a small piece of paper came home with him. Torn from a notebook, most likely with another kid’s name followed by a phone number and address scrolled across it.
“What’s this?”
A small smile crept to his lips. “I made a friend today. He wants to hang out on Saturday. Is that okay?”
Inside, my heart let for joy. A new friend. “He’s definitely welcome to come over,” I said. “Tell me more about him.”
We sat and chatted, and my heart lifted. As a mom, it doesn’t get much better than seeing your kids happy. Especially when they’ve been bummed and stressed for so long.
Dylan’s smile was back this morning. He rode fast to school, and he hugged me three times at drop off.


The Barrier: an unexpected lesson

As a month in Berlin draws to a close, I have come to a realization and my heart goes out to the 32 million adults, 14% of Americans; that’s according to the U.S. Dept. of Eduction, who can’t read. As an educator this number blows my mind!

My family and I have been struggling to learn the German language here, and I understand the frustration of an English Language Learner (ELL) in our school systems along with their parents. Not understanding both the written or the spoken pieces of a language has been frustrating. A feeling of anger mixed with just filling inadequate and stupid. Everything from not being able to order off a menu at a restaurant because their are no pictures to being in the checkout line and the clerk asking you a question and my response is a blank stare, hoping I don’t look as stupid as I feel. As a result, just being here these few short weeks has already changed my perception and patience level as a teacher.

In the future I know can relate to and sympathize with those new to education and new to a culture and language. Going through this process has given me new strategies and an appreciation for the opportunities I have had to grow as a educator. I know in time we will continue to learn phrases and vocabulary. With the technology available with various translation apps as well as apps that teach you simple vocabulary and phases, we’re pretty blessed. Also there are many opportunities for language classes within the area which we are going to take. The opportunity is there and we’ll grow and discover more of the German culture and language. And through all of it, I’ll grow stronger and more passionate about education.