Learning a new confidence: a change in language and culture can leave people feeling insecure in social life

Rhetoric is the art of speaking and I always had it on my side. Growing up I learned to rely on words to solve most of my troubles and discovered I had a way with language.

Even with short notice I could produce a speech for whatever audience was in front of me. I felt at ease leading a conversation with people more educated than I and always jumped at the opportunity to engage in new activities. Loving the challenge of a well-supported argument, I was never short of words in a group discussion.

I never realised just how much my personal confidence was based on rhetoric skills until I came to live in a new country. While I never had a hard time with the English language, the change in quality of my expression became apparent as soon as I started taking part in social interactions.

It frustrates me to no end to suddenly struggle to get my point across and it throws me right back into old social awkwardness. But, most of all, it affects my eagerness to join groups and activities, it makes me cautious in front of challenges. It makes me feel uncomfortable about interacting with people and brings back an insecurity long since overcome, which in turn keeps me from offering my best performance.

A common reaction for international students in my situation is to seek out other people from the same home country, but that strengthens the obstacle rather than removing it. The challenge to step out of our comfort zone is usually the best way to face an impediment to our social performance.

Reversing the matter, confidence also has an impact on how we learn a new language and a low self-confidence might prevent us from shining in our study.

Considering the two-way effect language and confidence have on each other, challenge truly is the way to break the loop. And while jumping out of our comfort zone is always scary to some level, we should remind ourselves of the progress already made. International students sometimes tend to use the same standards to judge the knowledge they have of their first and second languages. We start learning our native language from birth, while we try to master an entirely different one in just a few years of life – the two cannot be easily compared.

To move forward from the initial impasse we should remember to be kind to ourselves. Moving to live in a new country entails learning the rules of social life in a different culture and it doesn’t need to be easy.

The world wide connection available in modern days brings everyone on the same level and makes all cultures seem accessible. It tends to simplify the appearance of different communities. But it’s okay to immerse ourselves in foreign cultures and feel a little out of our depth, it’s what makes discovery exciting. It’s okay to recognise the many confusing differences between people, it’s what makes countries worth visiting.

When a fundamental element of our confidence shifts and leaves us unstable, we should appreciate the search for a new balance and try to make a positive experience out of it rather than letting it hold us back.

As an international student facing the task to learn a new rhetoric to rely on, I’m going to enjoy the challenges and the little treasures that I’ll pick up on my way through the understanding of a different culture.

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