Tag Archives: language
We are excited to announce that the Gilman Global Experience Blog will now feature stories from Gilman alumni! Our first alumni post is from Gilman scholar Anthony Latta, who studied abroad in Russia in 2001, the first year of Gilman Scholarship recipients. Read how Gilman has played a critical role in his career over the past 15 years.
Are you a Gilman alumni with a story to share? E-mail email@example.com for more information.
Becoming a Gilman scholar was important for my ability to study abroad from 2001 to 2002 in Moscow and made my career possible. As a first-generation college student, I had resources through student loans and grants to fund my education, but I did not have the resources to fund study abroad, which was considerably more expensive than my in-state tuition at Texas Tech. The Gilman Scholarship made it possible for me to study abroad.
I cannot express how important studying Russian in Moscow for that academic year was. I went from intermediate to high level fluency. In fact, when my parents visited Moscow in March 2002, Russians spoke to my parents in Russian because Muscovites assumed that I had learned Russian at home. The only way I reached this level of fluency was by living with a Russian host family and studying the language for five days a week. The Gilman Scholarship made that possible.
My fluency in Russian helped me get into graduate school at American University, where I received an MA in International Affairs in 2006. My fluency in Russian then helped me get a job at a large USAID (United States Agency for International Development) implementing partner in 2007, where I initially supported USAID-funded projects in Russian, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Since 2007, I have received opportunities to travel in the former Soviet Union and have grown professionally. While I no longer use Russian language on a daily basis in my job, my ability to speak and read Russian was instrumental in getting the job that has led to my professional success. In fact, this year my language skills give me credibility when I interviewed for a corporate ops job supporting operations in Latin America, Africa, and Eurasia. My language skills showed that I have a professional and personal interest in running programs abroad.
While my spoken Russian language skills today are no match for 2002, I continue to read books in Russian – and translate Russian jokes into English for my wife, much to her chagrin. I have now spoken Russian longer than I have not, and I cannot imagine my life without the language. In fact, as I write this paragraph, I look at the chalkboard in my office, on which I’ve written snippets of Russian sayings.
For anyone interested in achieving high fluency in a foreign language, I sincerely hope that the Gilman Scholarship can help you reach that. In my job as a hiring manager, foreign-language fluency and cultural awareness that fluency and studying abroad affords are necessary and set individuals apart. That is how I have achieved professional success, and I believe it will continue to do so for others.
And for all of this, I truly thank the Gilman Scholarship.
Traveling to different places and different countries has taught me that there are always highs and lows. I could be in Vienna eating Viennese cakes for a week but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and flowers. India is the same. Let’s start with the Thorns. It’s always better to end on a high note, right?
-First and foremost, it was finals week. I had a Tamil exam and 3 papers to submit. I can’t say it was the most fun or exciting week; it was stressful and tedious. I sat on my butt for so long writing my final papers that by the end of the day it felt like my butt was flat as a pancake.
-The weather in Madurai has not cooled down. The high is always 102 degrees Fahrenheit. If we’re lucky, the temperature will dip right below 100 degrees. According to my host mother, it is unusually hot for this time of the year. To make it worse, the rainy season has not started. I asked my host mother about the rainy season that I had heard so much about from previous students who had studied abroad through SITA (South India Term Abroad). My host mother looked at me with an amused expression.
“There is no such thing as monsoon season in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is a very dry state. Our rainy season means that it will rain two times a week, if we’re lucky maybe three times a week.”
I was shocked! Prior to coming to India people described the rainy season as the “skies opening up to let the rain pour down on you.” It was all a lie. After being corrected by my host mother, I was in denial. I wanted to be caught in a rainstorm. I wanted to wear my raincoat. I wanted to bathe my Chacos in some fresh rainwater by jumping into huge puddles. Most of all, I wanted the temperature to drop. It’s the beginning of October and rainy season should have started here in Madurai. I assure you it has yet to begin. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rain will pick up!
-Classes are over! Enough said!
-From the 9th to 15th I will go on a week-long excursion with my study abroad program. We’re traveling to Kerala, a bordering state, where we will be exploring tea plantations, spice farms, and so much more! I am VERY excited! After 8 straight weeks of class, all I want to do is find a quiet outdoor space and read my eBooks for hours on hours. An additional perk to going to Kerala is the fresh seafood! Stay tuned for some awesome food pictures in my next blog post.
-As I mentioned above, I took my last Tamil language exam. During the speaking portion I was speaking one-on-one with my Tamil professor, Dr. Arun. I am proud to say that I can actually speak Tamil. I can say complete sentences and understand questions directed towards me. I’ve only been learning Tamil for 8 weeks but I can have conversations with auto-rickshaw drivers and locals. This is the difference between learning a language in an American classroom and being fully immersed in the country it is spoken in. I’ve never been exceptionally good at learning languages but being forced to speak it and hear it all the time paid off!
-I locked myself into my own room…on the day of my Tamil exam. It was 8:30 on that sunny Wednesday morning and I had my backpack packed up and my gym bag ready to go. I knew I had to leave soon if I wanted to catch a shared auto and make it to class on time. I put on all of my stuff and went to my room door. I unlatched the lock at the top and turned the handle to open it. The door wouldn’t budge. I thought to myself, “maybe you’re doing it wrong Michelle.” The door was a little finicky beforehand and I just thought turning the handle a little bit more would unlatch it from its lock. It didn’t work. Third time was not a charm, neither was the fourth time nor the fifth time. My mind blanked. I didn’t know what to do. I banged on the door, hoping to attract my host mother’s attention. She slept on the first floor so I pounded on the door. I paused and tried to listen for footsteps. The house was dead quiet. For twenty minutes I beat on the door. Still nothing. Finally, I came to my senses and went to call my host mother on my cell phone. The problem? I had 2 rupees left for phone credit and she wasn’t picking up her cell phone. I should have added phone credit the day before. Why was I so dumb?! At this point, it was 8:50 and I knew I wouldn’t make it in time for my Tamil exam. I called my friend and told her that I was stuck in my room and there was no way of getting out. She was confused. I mean it’s not everyday where your friend is stuck in her room, right? I hung up and tried to think of ways I could leave the room. I could try to climb out through the window. I was desperate. I went to the window and soon came to the realization that there was NO way of getting out through the window. The window had metal bars, which my arm barely fit through. I tried to think of anyone else I could call. With the slightest bit of hope I called my host family’s home phone. After 5 or 6 rings my host mother picked up! Turns out she had gone out in the morning to run some errands. When I told her I was locked in my room I could hear the panic in her voice. She ran up to my room and fiddled with the door. No luck. She told me to remain calm and called a serviceman who could hopefully open the door. I sat at the foot of my bed and started laughing. The frustration had passed. Now, the whole situation was funny. Of course this would happen to me on the day of my exam. It was too good to be true. Being stuck in my own room would make one heck of a journal entry, I thought to myself. Eventually, the serviceman had to break the doorknob to get me out. I didn’t make it to my Tamil exam on time but I got to ride on the back of my host mother’s two-wheeler, which was SO much fun. So who really won here, the door or me? I’m leaning towards me.
-I saw an elephant! My friend and I were taking an auto-rickshaw to the fitness center when my friend shouted at the driver to stop. I look outside my window and sure enough there was an elephant 5 feet away from me. Sitting on the elephant was a man, who I assumed was its owner. The elephant was beautiful and SO big. I knew they were large but seeing one in-person and so close showed me the vast size of these animals. It’s too bad I couldn’t take a picture of it. Later that day I told my host mother that I had seen my first elephant and she informed me that it was the neighborhood elephant! Of course India has neighborhood elephants, so casual. She said the elephant’s owner takes it on short excursions to say hello to neighbors. How awesome is that?
I think I have changed quite a bit since the start of my study abroad experience in Morocco, but in a good way. The core of myself is the same, and I still have similar hopes and ambitions, but the way I look at and make decisions is a bit different. Looking back on my life before study abroad, I can remember that I was lacking some self sufficiency. I was open to having new experiences, but within a certain range. I didn’t have much confidence in doing things alone in a country where I did not speak the language. Taking taxis, trains, and renting apartments all seemed like hurdles I would struggle with. And they were when I first came to Morocco, but at this point in my semester, they are simple, painless, and sometimes exciting everyday tasks.
Although I have not improved my Arabic as much as I had hoped, I have learned enough to have simple conversations with taxi drivers who light up whenever I ask them how they are doing in Darija (Moroccan Arabic). My negotiating skills in Arabic have improved quite a bit. Sliding in a bit of Darija, and calling the taxi driver or merchant “brother” usually softens them up a bit, or at least puts a smile on their face.
I was very concerned about being able to cook for myself while completing the independent study portion of my study abroad. I had never really cooked much before, aside from breakfast and a sandwich here and there. The two other American students I was staying with are gluten intolerant and vegetarian. The food they made was not my cup of tea, to be honest. So I had to dive in, and try my hand at the easiest things I saw my dad make at home: pasta, pizza, and calzone. Yes, I know, stereotypical Italian, but it’s supposed to be easy, so I thought I should give it a shot. The pasta went by without a hitch, easy enough. Next was the calzone. We went to the grocery store to look for pre-made dough and they didn’t have it. I was going to have to make dough from scratch. I used the ever useful internet to find the ingredients and followed the recipe step by step. I made dough, with my own hands, and it was good. The filling of spinach, olives, and mushrooms was perfect, if I must say so myself. Now, when I go back home to the United States, the kitchen will no longer be just a place for my dad and his culinary expertise. There is a new cook in town, and he learned how to make pizza and calzone in Marrakesh.
Generally, I think I have become much more relaxed and willing to say yes to things I probably would not have before, and I am so glad I did. Do I want to stay at an Algerian film student’s house in Marrakesh for a week and a half? Why, certainly. Do I want to wake up at 6:00 am to watch the sun rise over the Sahara? Don’t mind if I do. Do I want to go with my friend to bear witness to Moroccan bureaucracy as he pays his traffic ticket and unwittingly get snuck into a Moroccan-only courthouse. Uh, yeah, sure, okay, why not. Probably don’t want to do the last one again, but it was an interesting experience. These experiences have, I believe, made me a more open person: someone who can see the benefit in experiences that might seem a bit uncomfortable, but that yield rewards that are worth it. If I had not done these things, I would not have seen things, or met people that have made my experience what it has been. Although it can be a bit uncomfortable to be pushed outside your comfort zone, you can come out a better, more experienced person.
One of the best things about studying abroad is the chance to get to know a language and culture that you wouldn’t have otherwise. However, on the flip side, I’ve had the opportunity to help others understand my language and culture. Before coming to Japan, I decided to get my Teaching English as a Second Language Certification and since living here, I’ve been able to teach Japanese people English through the use of my new certification.
Tutoring English to other people is a really interesting experience. My students range in their language ability from knowing only a few sentences, to people who just want to keep up their fluency with a native speaker. However, no matter what level I find myself teaching I always find some sort of growth that happens with my students, and it’s incredible to witness. For example, one of my students could only speak broken sentences when I first started my tutoring sessions with him, but only a couple months later we can hold entire conversations that can continue on for the entire lesson, and I’ve personally been able to watch the improvement in his speaking ability. For someone who has constantly tried to learn new languages since high school, it’s so inspiring to be able to witness someone learning a language, and actually having an influence in that progress.
It’s also given me a lot of introspection into my own cultural values and the values of Japanese people. With my higher level students, we talk about difficult subjects like politics, racism, religion, and cultural norms. Being one of the main reasons I love to travel, I think I enjoy this part the most – hearing from other people about their culture and actively comparing and contrasting to different cultures. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Japanese culture that I wouldn’t have otherwise, like political current events, and different cultural movements that are happening in the newer generations versus the older generations, and I have my students to thank for my deeper understanding of Japan.
Of course, teaching hasn’t been without its difficulties. It was pretty difficult when I was starting out. I have learned that language teaching takes a lot more skill than people first assume. Especially for my students who want to focus on more colloquial mannerisms and not so much textbook learning styles. Its made me think outside the box when it comes to how people learn differently from me, and its given me a lot of ideas about how I might want to approach language learning in the future for myself. However, with the months going by and with more experience, I’ve come to find that I enjoy teaching English, so much so that I’m starting to consider teaching English in a foreign country after graduating. This is quite ironic to anyone who knows my career goals of being a foreign service officer, a career that has nothing to do with teaching in a classroom. But the biggest thing I’ve learned from tutoring English so far is that you might actually really enjoy something you never thought you would for different reasons than other people enjoy it, and that’s exactly what’s happened for me while teaching English to others.