Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Language Learning Growing Pains

South America, Suriname
Personal Essay


Living and working in both the capital city, Paramaribo, and in a nature park in the interior rain forest of Suriname brings me into contact with eight cultures and 10 different languages! As you can imagine, learning and adapting to these multiple cultures and languages can be a daily challenge.

During my pre-service training, I was introduced to the Creole culture and the Dutch language. Learning Dutch is challenging and I often wondered if I would be sufficiently fluent when my pre-service training came to an end. As it turns out, I began my Volunteer service with limited communication skills, and often I felt very isolated in the initial months of my Volunteer service in the nature park.

But I decided to meet my frustration with my language ability head-on by turning it into an opportunity. I began by sitting with various individuals, one-on-one, attempting to converse, as they taught me about their cultures and languages. The one-on-one interaction has proven crucial for my language skills.

Additionally, the Peace Corps provided me with supplemental language tutoring. Through these additional lessons, I worked to improve my Dutch and learn Sraran Tongo. People I spoke with offered insight into their cultures, their traditions, their perspectives, and their specific language or dialect. Finally, I committed myself to practice. I told myself, "If you don't practice, you just aren't going to learn." I practiced listening; I practiced observing; and I practiced speaking. Sure, sometimes I sounded like a five-year-old with a thick accent, but I confronted my frustrations and met the challenge!

Now I can follow conversations in Dutch and Sranan Tongo, and I am participating in them. And while communicating can still be challenging, it is not as daunting and overwhelming as it used to be. I learned to treat the challenges and frustrations as blessings in disguise. Now that I see these opportunities coming to fruition, not only can I speak Dutch and Sranan Tongo, but I have also learned something about my own abilities to face adversity. 

About the Author

Keba Fitzgerald

World Wise Speakers

Invite a Peace Corps volunteer into your classroom to share what it's like to live a global life by sharing stories, cultures and knowledge.