It was the fifth time that my application was rejected. I was high-spirited that morning, cycling to school, imagining myself volunteering at a hospice in Maastricht. My hope was torn apart when I received an email rejecting my application, purely because I could not speak Dutch. I mean, there are tons of things that I can help in the hospice other than talking to the elderly. I can wash the dishes, clean up the rooms, move boxes, help the elderly down a flight of stairs, and serve food…, all without speaking Dutch!
My lack of Dutch language skills did not only limit me from doing volunteer work; I was rejected multiple times when I unknowingly signed up for some courses and lectures provided by Maastricht University in Dutch. I felt like opportunities were taken away from me. This had triggered my over-competitiveness. I decided to learn Dutch at the UM Language Centre on the second month of arrival at Maastricht.
I started by going to the B@sic Dutch courses that are offered for free to the first-year students. They were quite helpful in terms of introducing Dutch to a total foreigner. But it did not get me far from saying “Dank je wel” and “alstublieft”. Also, Dutch turned out to be somewhat like English, so the course seemed not very difficult. Hence, I decided to take the official Dutch course A1.
It was a pure recap of what I have learnt previously. I could even follow the course without putting in much effort and I obtained a decent grade for the A1 level exam. This was when I started to get cocky. I can already communicate in three different languages (Korean, English and Chinese) and I was quite confident that I could make Dutch my fourth one.
I moved onto A2. This was when the war in my head started. Although I have learnt three different languages, all of them came naturally to me as I have been speaking them since a young age and I just had to blindly follow the school curriculum to be fluent in them. Learning a new language as an adult was a totally different thing. When I wanted to make a sentence in Dutch, I had to think of the vocabulary, grammar and the meaning I want to bring across all at the same time. And try very hard to not to translate the sentence directly from Korean, Chinese or English. This is like fighting a war against three different enemies at the same time for every sentence I say.
However, I am getting used to the ongoing battle in my head and I am actually having fun in challenging myself. Through this journey, I have realised that practice does not make perfect, but it does make for fewer mistakes. Now, my supermarket-Dutch is quite up to standard, which is already a great improvement. I dream of the day when I can watch the Dutch news without any subtitles. Dutch B1- course, here I come.
Su Min Pack