Confronting My Kryptonite

Preparing for this lesson, teaching students whose first language wasn’t even English, my stomach churned. Talking to strangers has always been my kryptonite. The youngest of four, I grew up sheltered. Out in the world, it was always someone else doing the talking: Dad ordering food, Mom at the checkout, my brothers, the ultimate good-cop-bad-cop duo. Even at the movies, my parents were my human shields against the world.

Over the years, this fear festered, becoming this unstoppable monster. Skydiving? Sure. Bungee jumping? Why not? But put me in front of a crowd, and I’d freeze.

Now, in Tangier, I had to lead a discussion about something personal. The language barrier made it even scarier.

That night, fretting about my presentation, the questions piled up: Projector? Whiteboard? I had questions, but no answers.

Thinking about the differences between the US and Morocco, something clicked. Here, tradition binds families tight. I’ve always been free to be myself. Then I remembered something writer Josh Shoemake said about young Moroccans breaking the mold. Maybe I’d prompt them to write about a time they defied their family’s rules…

Finishing my PowerPoint, I checked the time. Four AM? Damn! My alarm was set for just two and a half hours from now. No way I was eating breakfast. I got ready, packed, and collapsed into bed.

The alarm buzzed right as I felt I’d closed my eyes. Nauseous, I dragged myself out the door to the American Language Center.

Inside, soaking up the sun on the patio, I felt like a kid called to the principal’s office. Nervous energy had me tapping my foot, a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. Now it was twelve minutes until class, and I just wanted it over with. It’s like ripping off a bandage – you’ve got to do it whether you want to or not.

Maybe nobody will show up, I thought, but I wasn’t that lucky. I was assigned a room and saw just one girl signed up for my seminar: “An Introduction to Dramatic Non-Fiction”. One student would be even worse than a group!

Another girl walked in, greeted the first, and took the seat beside her. My stomach twisted. I stalled until 9:05, hoping for more students.

Three guys finally arrived, and I took a deep breath. Turning, I began. I wrote the prompt on the whiteboard and, after that… it’s a blur. I went into autopilot, explaining writing tools, how to use them.

Twenty-five minutes in, I asked them to share. One guy, his pencil flying, started reading. He spoke of wanting a gap year after graduation, to figure things out, but his family accused him of laziness. Only his mom supported him.

I couldn’t help smiling. His writing was full of life. It was incredible – everything I’d taught was sinking in.

Another girl volunteered. Her story was another heartbreaker: a lifelong dream of studying abroad, the hard work, the scholarship… denied by her father. Her pleas, her tears – nothing moved him. Only her mother was her ally. She vowed to keep trying to convince him.

My heart ached for her. Abroad is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and here was someone with the courage to go being held back. Suddenly, my own fear evaporated. This was why people teach.

Ryan Breen is a Medical Biology (Medical Sciences) major at the University of New England.

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