Language Alumni Panel 4 27 2017

I want to thank all of you for coming to
this event. This is the first language alumni panel that we had and what we
hope will be become an annual event with representatives of the many
different languages we teach on campus giving each of you all of you students a
chance to see how these people are putting their language study into
practice in their own lives. We’d like to thank the sponsors of the event: the
Colgate Language Council, the Center for National Programs, the Keck Center for
Language Study, and the Various Language Departments on campus, Romance languages and literatures, Russian Eurasian Studies Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, German and East Asian Languages and Literature. As we begin I
just want to say a few words because I think there are a lot of reasons that
college students study languages maybe your helicopter parents insist see it
will make your CV stand out to employers. Maybe you read some BuzzFeed listicle
that guaranteed you’d make more money if you are bilingual or maybe you’re Arabic
professor persuaded you with promises of endless baklava. But while I’m a fan
of all these practical reasons I want to point out another benefit that is less
obvious to those who haven’t fully immersed themselves in language study.
Learning a foreign language forces us to inhabit a liminal space between
two cultures. From the vantage point of a new language we can reassess our own
native tongue and native culture in a new way through the lens of another
culture’s words. Well we might frame another country, another culture, or
another language as our object of study we inevitably find the true object of study is ourselves. Studying foreign languages has a power beyond the
command of vocabulary and verb forms. It opens our minds to the new possibilities
of an intercultural world. It makes learners more prepared to deal with the
nuances, ambiguities, and often the absurdities of everyday life. Learning a
new language opens possibilities far beyond the utilitarian goals of becoming a
productive worker. Learning a new language allows us to engage in the
world at a deeper level and in more complex ways. I’m excited to present to
you today our panelists who’ve each found unique ways of putting their
knowledge of another language another culture into practice in their
professions. First, Greg Labenka who graduated from Colgate in 2005 as a
double major in International Relations and Russian studies. He later graduated
from Georgetown University with a master’s degree in security studies.
Since 2005 he has worked in Washington as a foreign affairs and national
security analyst in the public sector. Greg lives in Clarksburg, Maryland with
his wife Kay also from the class of 2005 , their two young sons William and Daniel,
and a fish named Gogol Second, we have Edgardo Miranda Rodriguez who
graduated from Colgate in 1993. He’s an artist and owner of the Brooklyn based
studio Somos Arte. Edgardo’s true passions is still the comic books of his
youth and has turned his childhood obsession into a fruitful career, producing graphic novels through his studio, working as a writer for Marvel
comics, and curating art exhibitions featuring Marvel superheroes and the
work of it’s artists before finding success as an artist and
entrepreneur Edgardo worked as an organizer promoting social justice and
empowering youth through culturally and socially conscious events. His continued
dedication to these values and to his community is embodied in his new
original comic book character la Borinqueña a strong female superhero who
draws her powers from the island of Puerto Rico and right after this event
at 6 p.m. in golden hall he’ll be speaking about that comic book, so if you
want to go down there and get some more of Edgardo. And then finally Lunas
Agorats who graduated from Colgate last year as a double major in Astronomy
Physics and Anthropology. During her time at Colgate she was an Alumni Memorial
Scholar and during her senior year she won the Physics and Astronomy
Department Founders Award. She served as president of the Secular Association of
Skeptical students, or SAS, and the Arabic Language and Cultural club. While Colgate she participated in an extended study, living Egypt, studied
at the American University in Cairo in the spring of 2015 and did
archaeological excavation work in Upper Egypt during the summer of 2015. So as we
proceed I’m going to turn the time over that need to them will give some
background about how they study languages, what they’ve done with
languages, and any interesting fact that they thought were pertinent to you, and
then we’ll open the floor up to questions from all of you. So start
thinking of those questions now because that’ll be your time. So I’ll turn
over to you and we can just go on that So I want to really focus on kind of of three core things about what I took
kind of my language experience here Colgate. So it’s a quick reminder, ’01 to 05
and I was a double major international relations and Russian. You know the three
things I took away from it, which I’ll speak about in turn are the
importance of expertise that language study gives you and helps you convey to
others; the determination and grit it shows employer; and also from the nerdy
end just like the pure intellectual joy you get from interacting with people
from another culture and with their literature, and their language. So for the
most, like, marketable aspect of this in terms of how it helps your career. So I
was very cognizant when I started Colgate that I wanted to
do a double major, in the sense that I wanted to understand the theory of how
states interact with each other and how systems of states evolve, but I also
wanted a sense of “okay how can I apply that to a particular state” because being
able to sort of speak in the realm with pure theory about how states interact,
doesn’t do much good if you can’t also talk about how individual states act, and how
you can take that overarching system and apply it to an individual country. So
I kinda created my own program here in the double major so that I could take
courses that fulfill both the Russia side and the IR theory side.
And I then took that and they then built a career on it so I was very lucky
because of able to find a career down in DC doing foreign policy analysis where I
focused on Russia’s foreign policy toward other countries. It’s sort of a
rare example of like taking a liberal arts major and then you know
working that exact issue when you come out of school. But what it really
did for me though is having that language background allowed me to then
demonstrate to others essentially that I had an expertise that
you wouldn’t get otherwise. And to give you a quick example of that, you know one of
those folks that I brief on regular basis are people in Congress. And it’s a
painful experience and if you have a particularly like crotchety Congress
person, you know, the first thing they ask you is “Okay you purport to be an expert
on this country, have you been to the country?” And you speak the language, and if
you say no, then they automatically dismiss anything you have to say, as
indicated by … . The other sort of kind of kind of quick vignette I want
to spin is that, you know, as I build sort of my expertise through work on
international relations and on Russian. Having that language skill then helps
open doors down the line. So I was very lucky in 2012, so this point I was you
know young 28 year old kid, and they put me in front of President Obama, as one of
the government’s experts on Russia’s foreign policy. And it was myself and it
was another woman, same age as me, who went to Harvard and Middlebury to study
Russian and they handed President President Obama our bios, and they said this is
Susy and Greg. And in my case, Greg went to Colgate University, he’s been to
Russia, he studied there, speaks Russian, he’s an expert on Russia. In other words
that was a critical thing to convey to the president “here’s why you should listen
to this 28 year old kid, who looks like he’s 12 who’s sitting in front of you. And that
was just absolutely like the highlight of my professional life and again gets the
idea of the importance of credibility. As an employer I would want to see that if
somebody comes to me and says I’m an expert in X Y Z country that you can
actually speak the language and that you have a sense of how that culture works.
So that’s the first part of it. The second part is the idea of determination.
Regardless of what language you speak, if you went through the trouble to, in the case of
the Russian, say learn how to conjugate motion verbs then you are
made of some pretty stern stuff. And as a, again as an employer, if I look at an
application and I see “wow, this person learned Arabic and/or Russian or German
or Japanese” I know that this is a dedicated person who can set their mind
to something, who can accomplish it, who can stick it out for the long haul and
who really cares about what they say that they’re passionate about. One of the things I do now in a managerial role where I work, is I look
at applications for people internally who want to go to different countries
and work abroad. And if they say I want to work in Germany for the next two
years. Well I want to see on your application
whether they speak German is important to me but have you take another language because
that demonstrates me that you’re able to learn this language. So that’s
second part of it. All that is the very marketable stuff, right. The third is just
like the pure intellectual joy of learning another culture and this is sort of one of my absolute favorite stories of being a
Colgate is that, so as I said, I knew that I wanted to do international relations
but I didn’t know what language I wanted to study. I did Spanish in high school didn’t care for it.
A few courses in Japanese and it didn’t speak to me. And then as a senior in
high school at picked up War and Peace on whim, and read it, and fell in love with
it, and I thought there’s something about the philosophy in this book. About the
characters in this book, that just speaks me I don’t know why, and I want to learn
more about it, and I want to learn how. I want to learn the
culture that produced this incredible work. So I went to Colgate and I learned
Russian and I took Russian courses and I engaged with Russian literature. The very
last course I took, and I think it was with professor Helfon who’s back there, was
reading excerpts of War and Peace in Russian and discussing the philosophy behind it.
And for me it just like opened up it’s strange little arc in the universe where like, you
know, I went to this place and I had my mind you’ve opened to an amazing way of
looking at the world and philosophy of looking at the world that came from
Russia that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to and then I got to actually
see it from, a little bit, from a Russian standpoint. So that’s the end of
my remarks. So yeah, it’s intellectually interesting, it helps you show
determination, grit, and it’s sort of a marketable skill that showed that you’ve
got expertise over languages. Hey what’s up? So my family’s from Puerto Rico and migrated to the United
States or moved just like we came from like Texas to like Kansas, from Puerto
Rico to New York City in 1950s when the petroleum industry collapsed in Puerto Rico. That was
around the time is something called OPEC was created
so everything shifted, in terms of like, the economy of oil and petroleum
industry. So many Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States close to maybe 240-250,000. My grandparents were among them. My mother
was about nine years old when she came to New York City. She learned English
on public school system and speaks fluent English and terrible Spanish. I
grew up hearing Spanglish at home and I never really was interested in learning
Spanish because initially I was pretty clueless about my heritage, my ancestry
and I kinda just was a student that just wanted to do the best that I could
to excel, to provide myself with more opportunities to succeed. I came from a
very poor family single mother. Raised us up on assistance. Education, for
me, was going to be the solution to finally break that cycle of poverty and Spanish was actually introduced to me in
high school. And I was fortunate enough to study for four years, same
teacher, Mr. Dupree, who was actually a native speaker from Costa Rica. And I
took Spanish in junior high school but I was very disinterested because it was
a native speaker and there was, the instruction wasn’t taught in accent, it was
just taught as a spoken word but there just wasn’t
any context or culture behind it. But when I started seeing how Mr. Dupree commanded a class it kind of sparked something that I did what it sparked
before. When I came to Colgate I studied under professor Rojas, who’s still teaching
she’s actually off this year and I took Spanish with her for four years. Spanish
for me as an undergraduate at Colgate University opened up an entire world to
me that I wasn’t even aware was always there for me. It connected me to my
heritage but it also connected me to the rest of the world. In the United States
about thirty eight million people speak Spanish, so that’s like one in ten people
speak Spanish, who globally over four hundred million people speak Spanish. And
although we live under the administration that is trying to quell any notion of
diversity in this nation is something that is an actual fact that we cannot
get away from. And that’s just a reality. And in this hemisphere Spanish is
actually the dominant language, that’s spoken in the Western Hemisphere and
in terms of like north of South America specifically speaking. So spanish for me
was actually an opportunity to connect to my heritage. And it opened me up to so many different things. Before learning and embracing
Spanish, as a language, I was very much into pop culture, pop music. That’s even
hip-hop music. But when I started learning Spanish, I started listening to
some music for very first time. And I started understanding and embracing the
culture behind some musicians like Ruben Blades, who was actually an
activist from Panama and was the first artist to introduce on social issues into
his music. He even ran for president in Panama. And then I was introduced to
folk music of Silvio Rodriguez, Cuban folkloric musician.
Beautiful, beautiful poetry, beautiful lyrics and then I was introduced to
Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who’s obituary went viral just a few
days ago even tho he passed away about four years ago. It opened me up
to a whole other way of looking at who I was and how I was a part of a larger
part of the larger world, you know. I didn’t feel like a minority anymore, in fact I cringe at using that word “minority”. I haven’t
use that word since, I believe, I was freshmen at Colgate so that was like 1989, you
know. I started seeing myself as part of the majority. I’m actually
part of a larger world of people with a with a history, with a legacy. And embracing that empowerment and in a way that I didn’t feel I could
actually be empowered. I thought the only way I was going to be empowered with
just by academically excelling but introducing language into my life and into my well my language, introducing it into my mouth,
literally. It introduced it into my identity. And it sparked something in
identity that I never thought was lacking and because of it because of my
embracing of Spanish language it opened me up to become much more of an
individual concerned with social issues and social justice. Although, my
introduction is … I will tell you, you that as an undergraduate student I was
very active, as a student activist: sit-ins, protests, in fact, a
lot of the protest work that we did actually led to the diversity that
exists today, believe it or not. The core curriculum that exists at Colgate
like, for example, there is actually a core curriculum course being taught about
Puerto Rican Studies. We as undergraduate students, particularly those of Latino
heritage, protested that we wanted to have our education reflect our
heritage so that all of us could share my heritage and that a core curricular
course should not reflect just simply the roots of Western civilization but it
should reflect the roots of global civilization and all of us should learn from each other,
it shouldn’t just be all of us learning from one Eurocentric lens. And I didn’t
realize the power of that Spanish language until I actually even came back
to Colgate recently, and started talking to students that are taking a core
curriculum on Puerto Rico, fucking blows me away that that even exists, you
know. And then I see how Spanish continues to open doors and as an
undergraduate student I was actually president of the Latin American Student
Organization and at the time we had a growing population of Dominicans and
other Latinos from Latin America but they were immigrants and
they weren’t English dominant. So it forced me to learn how to speak better
Spanish because I wanted to talk to my fellow students and they helped me and
they would help me with my Spanish. So for me my language development at
Colgate was much more of a holistic development. It was in the classroom and it
was in the community and it was also in my own engagement as a student activist and
as a student leader. I was President Latin America Student Organization. I used to DJ parties at La Casa,
which is down the street, I actually renamed, I was actually
the culprit that renamed a casa. We backed the Jeep into the sign, hid it in the
basement of the house, I took some paint I repainted it to “La Casa Pan-Latina
Americana” which is hilarious because I realized later that I translated it into
the Latin American bread house because we’re trying to say pan-latin like
pan-africanism and it’s hilarious that it’s still still fucking said the Latin American
bread house but that’s a semantic and stuff. And I realized then that Spanish was
going to help me, not only connect again to my heritage, but help me to
connect to others. So when I left Colgate I was a teacher for six and a half years at
a grassroots organization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Brooklyn and I still live in the
neighborhood to this day. I actually live like three blocks from the
high school I used to teach, and I taught there for six and a half years, and again
majority of students — it was mixed. There were some predominantly English speaking students but there were a lot of immigrants.
I was able to talk to their families, I was able to talk to the
students, I was able to connect. I was able to translate my
curriculum. I was able to translate the work that need to be done directly with
parents, in a way that I couldn’t see before. And the parents were able to
connect with me because they saw me as a fellow Latino that was invested and
engaged, and actually concerned about the development of our children
and I’m the obviously as a result the development of our community. I made a
decision as a young man when I had the chance to buy property to buy my first
property in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the southside of Williamsburg which is
predominantly Latino neighborhood because I wanted children in the neighborhood
to see a professional that actually has an education, has a career but still
lives their neighborhood. So when I’m shopping in the local supermarket
picking up my platanos I’m literally talking to a
woman who already just finished her shift at the factory or finish her shift as a
nanny and I’m able to engage and then able to show them that we’re all still
part of this community. And I’m able to engage in Spanish. And Spanish for me was
that significant and it was really here at Colgate that it really gave me that
foundation, because although high school introduced it to me I didn’t have a
community that engaged me in language I was in the classroom, I did my work and
that with it but when I was at Colgate, I did my work, I used to piss
off Professor Rojos all the time because I used to curse a lot, and
I still curse a lot, you know. And I used to curse in Spanish. I was like “coño” and she was like
“Ay Edgar por favor” and I was like why, what did I say, you know. I was terrible at accent marks. I’d
get my papers back I was like flick, flick, flick red, red, red and I thought I got like a terrible grade and it was just she was incessant an accent mark, which
is fucking hilarious because when she writes you an email, her emails are
terrible because she doesn’t know how to like put spaces between the words and
I’m like, you know I should take like a red marker to her emails and stuff.
And it’s evolved. Language for me has evolved. I’ve actually been running my
own design studio for 17 years. I actually named it
“Somos Arte” instead of calling it “I’m Art Studio” or whatever and “Somos Arte” translates into “We Are Art” because to me, it’s important to present my
heritage and my culture and my art from its purest form. One of my friends
actor John Leguizamo says it’s best that “As Latinos we always have to
accommodate ourselves for everyone else” we have to anglocize ourselves for everyone
else. And I walked into a room and I catch myself sometimes I say I’m Edgaurdo
Miranda Rodriguez, I’m like no I’m Edgaurdo Miranda Rodriguez and
we also have to kind of like change the way we pronounce our names or shorten
our names it’s kind of like that Ellis Island effect that’s been around
for like over 100 years here in the United States that we always have to
change who we are but who we are, is exactly that, it’s who we are and when
we celebrate who we are, that actually helps us celebrate, all of who we are, not
just my experience but all of our experiences. So I started my own design
studio and I started doing a lot of work with a lot of Latino organizations
both locally in New York City and internationally. My work has taken me to
Monterrey, Mexico where I was able to work with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO). And that was
hilarious because then I started realizing the complexities of Spanish
because it’s like the complexities of English. We can go to Ireland or we can go
to Australia and after a while you will be like “wait what”
because it’s just a different vernacular and I was in Monterrey and about a week
into it, on the fifth day, I was like “okay okay, can we try english”
“Oh si, yes yes, we can try english” and then English was terrible and I was like
like “okay, okay we got to go back to Spanish”. But for me
Spanish was powerful and most recently it helped me to kind of like
tap into my voice, my storytelling voice and I’m very concerned about the current
debt crisis affecting Porto Rico which is the humanitarian issue at this
point. 3.5 million Americans live on the island of Puerto Rico and they’re suffering
an 80 billion dollar debt and a board was put together a year ago and they have until May first to present a solution, that
doesn’t see any reality and actually being formed. So I created this comic
book, of all things, to give me the platform to reach a broader audience to
talk about these social issues because it reminded me of the student when I was
here and I was able to connect with with immigrants who were students here for
the first time. And my comic book has actually done that I wrote the comic
book bilingually and I’ve actually spoken at universities in Seattle, in
museum the New Orlean, in Philadelphia, Connecticut, across the
United States and I’m continuing to tour throughout the year
so what I would, in part, based on my testimony is coming more from my own
experience which is that Spanish helped me connect to something that was
always a part of me and one of the things I actually learned is that being an
American I did not have to actually deny and forget about my actual heritage.
Embracing my language actually made me more American than I actually
never thought I could have been and in my area it gave me the ability to
communicate with families the students in my work in education and my work at
social justice and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done particularly with —
so much work is happening. So much work is happening now with immigrants across the
United States and there’s such an important need for us learn Spanish to actually
engage and help and be a part of a necessary progressive movement to remind
each and all of us that this is what this nation is built on. It is built on an
immigrant community and when we forget that, we forget ourselves and that’s what
we should never do. We should always embrace who we are in embracing we are
we make ourselves available for a better nation. So that’s my talk. Thanks. I should have gone first. So my name is Luna. I’m class of 2016 so I just graduated, still less
than a year ago. I’ve never met President Obama and I don’t have a comic book, for
this I ask you to forgive me, but I’m here representing Arabic so … So I am Luna. I’m currently a first year graduate student at Yale University
going for my PhD in physics and astronomy which is
an interesting continuation of an Arabic background. So let me touch on three
things let me touch on my very short
history with language, but let me touch on Arabic at Colgate, and let me touch on
What After, especially if you’re in physics of all things. So I was born and
grew up in Serbian. Serbian is my first language
I lived very briefly in the United States when I was six years old due to the
political circumstances which is when this happened, so excuse my New Jersey
accent. When I got home, I went to first grade and my
teachers started teaching me how to write in Cyrillic and he was so confused
because he had never had somebody who mixed up “e”s and “i”s before. It’s because
in Serbian are “ee” and “eh”. They’re the absolute opposite of what they are in
English and he just couldn’t understand until my mother explained to him and he was like “uh okay”. So I learned to speak Serbian first but I learned to write
English first and this is the way I’ve grown up and this is a way that
I’ve always been I’ve always had a two-track mind. And so I did an exchange
year in a high school in Massachusetts for my senior
and after that I got into Colgate and so the summer after my exchange year, which
was hard, ten ten months away from home with non-stop was hard. I was excited to
finally be you know a college kid and I dreamed of going to school in the US for
so long and I went online like the geek that I am and looked up all courses and
you know made up a schedule I was going to take two cores, it was going to be
great I had it all figured out, you know, I was going to take physics and math and
like legacies and core India because then I got you know two requirements out
of the way and then Serbian mail service being what it is, I got the actual
registration packet approximately one day before the deadline that had this
little throwaway flyer that said living Egypt. And I said “wait what” and I read
it and living Egypt was in extended study … in the history department were leading
to Egypt. And I have been in love with Egypt since the age of eight before
coming to Colgate I’d been there four or five times, I’ve lost count. And Arabic is something that I always wanted to do but I wanted to do in the way that like,
I don’t know, I want to go paragliding, I want to dive out of a plane, like I wanted to
do it but I didn’t know if I saw it happening for myself. And so I
saw this flyer that says “Hey why don’t you take a class all about Egypt and
after that we’ll take you to Egypt for three weeks and all we ask in return is
that you can currently take Arabic” and I thought wow okay this is a real
opportunity like I have to do this now and it’s fine I’ll just take Arabic for
a semester and if it’s hard you know quit it at least I’ll know how to read
and write, it’ll be something you know I get to take a class on Egypt, no one’s ever offered me a class on Egypt before. So I reworked my entire schedule like the
little nerd child that I am. I’m pretty sure professor Nor hated me me for the
first month because I was the person that kind of like started talking to
over her. Just like vibrating from excitement that somebody
to talk about Egypt and like “oh well I when I was there, this is what”. I would hate myself in that class. I would absolutely hate myself. And Arabic was
interesting because the first day we had class … … and we’re all like “Hi, professor
what’s your name” and he’s like Anna … … we’re all
like … and he’s like … we started completely in
Arabic and I think it was the shock for all of us.
We had it five days a week, every other language had it four days a week, we had
to have a five days a week. Arabic was always that one step extra
and always will be. “You gotta have it five days a week” — Yes, getting to that. But basically it
was incredibly rewarding and also incredibly overwhelming I just remember
feeling like I’m in this pit I’m in this like pit of dirt that’s, you know, like above
my head. The only way to get anywhere is like claw the walls little by
little like I I don’t have a lot of room to move but like today I learned how to
say my name and tomorrow I’d learned how to count to five and you know the
day after that I learned you know how to write the sounds up to L and it was
really exciting and after just a month or so I could kind of look back and went
“wow I’ve learned so much in this month” and it just kind of like it went on from
there. It never got easier but it was always the kind of thing
where if you just forgot for a little bit to stop and turn around and look at
yourself you realize how much you’ve actually learned and how much it’s piled
on and what window it gives you know you kind of like dig the dirt a
little farther and suddenly you can you can see afar you can move, you can talk
to people suddenly, it’s free. So we took the trip to Egypt. We did
classes of Egyptian Arabic for three weeks which was like oh man I just
learned like Standard Arabic now you’re gunna make me make Egyptian Arabic. I don’t know how to say this. People would laugh in the street for saying way too formal things.
But it was great, it was the best trip I’ve ever taken in my life. And so the semester after that when I was like I’m a physics major I should focus
on math and maybe I should take comp sci because CompSci
gets you a job afterward, right. I’m an international student I need a job I
can’t be sent back right but no Arabic won’t give. And so for three years
after that I continued taking Arabic. It’s all the baclava. In fact, by junior year I couldn’t take it my
course though was too full so I audited Arabic twice a week, four to six, as a
sixth class. That is the power of the baclava people,
a sixth class, and the semester after that after a long and lengthy fight with
Colgate, I got to go to Egypt for a semester abroad. I studied at the
American University in Cairo I took four Egyptology courses and only one physics
class and it was amazing, I have no words. But I also thought that
I could connect to it very differently than my friends who come to the same
program but from other schools from an American background who just didn’t have
that level of Arabic even if they were bigger schools, one of the people was from
UNC, it might have been bigger programs with longer histories but they just
didn’t have the level they didn’t get to take care of in five days a week they
didn’t they didn’t get to audit Arabic as they said class four to six or
something there’s something really special about this program and you don’t
understand how much you’ve learned until didn’t look back and you’re like wow I
got so far and I was really able to talk to people and to talk to my
Egyptian friends in a way that I think a lot of the other exchange students weren’t
able to and come that summer I participated in a dig in …
which is a city in Upper Egypt that’s where the Valley of the Kings is if
anybody knows. It was my dream and there were two very obvious camps there
was the camp of the foreign archaeologists to come and dig and there
was the camp the local workers that carries baskets
full of sand in 50 degrees Celsius heat during Ramadan and the
only way these two camps interacted was a single Egyptian who spoke English. Not
one of these people who’s worked in life with Egypt spoke enough Arabic and I
found that mind-boggling. By the end of the sixth week I was like I was the one
person that the workers could speak to I didn’t you know I didn’t have great
skills and god, the accent was pretty hard but what is wrong with this
picture, that they can speak to me a junior from, you know, a privileged school versus these people who have been working in Egypt
and working about Egypt for 10, 20, 30 years. I thought that was
mind-boggling and that I think it really gave me a different experience and I
think that this is incredibly self-serving but I think that everybody
should want to have that experience it gives you a completely different way of
thinking is like it’s built a third set of train tracks in your head you can go
where there are no tracks. There’s, I think, the most amazing
thing is learning Arabic and learning words like … and learning that
these feelings that I have that I can never describe in Serbian or English
exist in another language and describing that there’s a word for that I think
that’s a very powerful feeling. So so that was the summer after my junior
year senior year I did not get to take Arabic but also … wasn’t teaching it
so it wasn’t important. So now I’ve done a whole year of just physics
classes and quite frankly I miss Arabic. I missed languages, I missed the anthro
side of my personality, I miss being the person on two tracks and I think that it
gives you a complete different way of thinking and a complete different way of
interacting with the world around you. And I think what it’s physics is not
thinking of a new way to interact with the world around you to think about the
world around you. So I’m really pushing to go back to it as an elective next
year or even two year after that is necessary. And there’s not there’s not an
obvious link you know it’s not it’s not French, it’s not going to let me go you
know go to CERN and pat somebody on the back and be like hey what’s up, I do
speak French but I think it’s incredibly important and I think it’s incredibly
important in times like these where you know not so long ago it was me picking
up the American accent because of political seems to circumstances and now
every time you know every time I see a Syrian woman at the supermarket that
gives me a terrified look because she doesn’t know is I’m going to scream at
her from wearing… you know I can say …
and you can see the relief on her face you can see the relief that somebody is
actually relating and somebody is doing their part to relate and not just liking
a facebook status. So now we’ll open it up for questions
and from what I know of the Hispanic, Arabic, Russian cultures I don’t think,
these are cultures that we think of as passive and shy, passive or shy with your
questions. So all of you have studied languages that are important in the world and have a lot of speakers but what would you say about — what if your passion for, like biggest passion for languages, was for a language that doesn’t
have a lot of speakers. Like I’m really interested in Finnish and the Uralic
languages in general so the whole family that it’s related to. But I’m taking Russian now
I’m overly interest in that to go like whatever I’m also interested in a
language that like not as well not as widely spoken like could I get something
useful out of that if I’m studying that. — What is it that’s fascinating you, right
now about Finnish, are you — is there something specifically your drawn to in
literature or history — I guess there are several factor like it’s a really pretty language, its the most beautiful language I’ve heard and also, and I think it instead of like a European
language that’s not related to most European language this is kind of
interesting, kind of stands out with smaller family of its own. So I
also appreciated like Finland their one of the happiest and most successful countries in the world and
I like admire how they have like strong welfare state and social safety
net and all those things — have you visited yet No, but I might be going this summer. I was struck by how you said, it useful or not and it’s sort of depends
on how you define what you’re looking for yourself.
Yeah, something that I find and it’s only pertains to myself is
that, I find beauty in novelty. And if you studying those languages
bring some type of like beauty to your mind or novelty of it that is, in of
itself, useful. Right, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I totally agree with you with that. Because it doesn’t necessarily
has to serve a grander purpose because it’s fulfilling something for you. — Yeah —
And by fulfilling that to you it may open you
up for something else beyond the Finnish language that you possibly weren’t aware
of. You haven’t even been to Finland yet. You might explore something there they
may open you up to a whole other world that you would get to become aware of.
And Finnish may just be the Gateway for you so it’s part it personal to you
and that’s actually just like would say that that is what makes it useful and
that’s that is what makes it important. I could go into … something to make it useful … something involving Finland. Well of course, by first you have to find have to find what’s your entry point for it because in anything
in life if you go in like “okay what can I do with this” then you’re kind of like
immediately like missing the point there, you know. Because his introduction to Russian was the literature he didn’t “sheesh what am I going to do as a
professional career” it’s like no he was he was fascinated by literature and
he had no idea that was going to end up as an analyst in his career but that
book opened up and it was actually the Russian version of the book it open it
up so they make that’s why I’m saying, you don’t know yet. And if it’s also
unfair to you to already think I know what it’s going to be just just what I
would in part is be open. There’s a lot more what is that there’s there to
you’re not and I and it’s actually a beautiful space to be to actually be
able to explore what what comes next and you’re so young. Trust me, I’m more than
double your age so if you have a lot of life left. So yeah. I think it’s like a
really interesting language too … like its grammar is completely different from
English. Okay so you’re asking about
basically under Representative languages is not necessarily corporal
languages. I mean I’m here talking about Arabic but my first language at the
end of the day is spoken by depending on how you define it because
there’s the whole political thing but like no more 20 million people, right?
And you couldn’t pry it out of my cold dead hands. I think that every language and
especially languages that are different to the language logic that you’re used
to are incredibly relevant because they think that more than anything we changed
the way you think yeah because language is a tool. You can’t use every tools the same way and it makes you
necessarily learn certain skills on how to deal with it and it gives you a
completely different world view, for one thing. For another thing you’re saying
you’re also taking Russian, for instance you’re interested in taking other
languages so I personally don’t speak Russian but I speak as cousin it’s not
immediately obvious to me that Finnish in Russian have necessarily anything in
common but learning any language is an entryway into learning another language.
Learning your second language is incredibly hard but learning your third
one is that much easier and learning your fourth one it goes like that it’s
so long as you are actually willing to do it — My sister who lives in Italy, she’ll sometimes sit down and be like
okay so like let’s say, so my boyfriend, you know, my boyfriend is French and I’m
serving and we’re they were living in Italy and we have the kid okay so the
kid is going to learn Italian from it’s surroundings. And it will learn French
from his dad because his dad only speaks French. So what if I have talked it
only in English but no that’s a crap base for learning other languages like Basically my sister and I should never
reproduce we’re going to — we’re going to make quintalingual monsters but point is, is that no knowledge gained is
bad knowledge and you never know what is going to lead into and you
never know what is going to allow you I think for instance like in Arabic I
think I had a much easier time hearing between the like 4 “t”s and 3 “s”s,
the difference between them because they have two serbian basis and i knew how to
roll my “r”. I think for instance English and any Slavic language really give you a
very wide base of how to learn other ones. So even if it’s not the same
grammatical structure and Vietnamese are something you want to learn tomorrow
there might be sounds hidden in there that your training your mouth, but more than that
your training your brain and I think that’s never a bad thing.
Can add something to what you said? So I was really struck by when you talk about the two tracks your minds like having a third track because it really does
make you think differently and professor I apologize I’m probably going
to murder this word because haven’t vocalized in a while but the word and in
Russia … which means if I believe I’ve gone this correct, is
essentially the sense of seeing something familiar as if you’re seeing
it for the first time you know like their guests sudden realization you look
in a mirror and you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror for a split
second and I’ve actually taken that concept which doesn’t have a word in English and I
used that implicitly in my analysis like that’s what good analysis is. It makes
somebody who sees the world through a certain lens all the sudden say “oh my
god I’ve been looking at all wrong”. You know this is sort of like it’s just
those very kind of weird, quirky things that can jump out to you and restructure
how your mind works when you study another language. — Absolutely
Okay thank you for your Question and Comments. Anybody else? Alright if no one asks
any more questions, you’re not allowed to eat any more fruit or cheese or free fruit infused water. For our Colgate students the usual problem is the culture shock when the they go visit the different country or things that they are not used to compared to — can you comment on that or what was in
Russia, when you visited, the most unusual thing and how did you deal with it. I have to reflect on that for a moment if anyone else has a more immediate answer. I think the most shocking place in the world is the United States.
I still don’t know if someone says “Lets get coffee”
I still don’t know whether they mean it and I always have to be like this for real thought or like is it the American “Let’s get coffee” I don’t think understand. — I’l say a little something. I did think of something. It always comes to my identity as a
American with a Puerto Rican heritage This — 2017 is actually the 100th
anniversary of the Jones Act when American citizenship was impose on Puerto Rico and although when you’re go to Puerto Rico you’re granted
American citizenship it’s literally living within a space of being a citizen of an
island that it taxed without representation, literally. And it’s a colony. So we are on the island believing we are Americans and when we
come to United States we aren’t received as Americans. We’re received as
second-class citizens. In fact, there’s actually much more of a passion to
embrace our heritage when we came to United States.
That’s why salsa music was invented in New York City. That’s why the Puerto Rican
flag was designed in New York City. That’s why there are culture
institutions across the United States and in Philadelphia, and Chicago that celebrate
and record Puerto Rican heritage across the United States because there wasn’t a
place for us. So we made a place for ourselves in the in the United States
because this was our country as well. And when I visit but Puerto Rico with everything
that I have amassed and acquired culturally and in general I
didn’t fit in Puerto Rico. I was received as a Puerto Rican and the no no no your an American, you’re a Nuyorican, you from New York City. You’re not Puerto Rican and
then I was like shit I’m neither received at home in New York and I’m not
received in Puerto Rico. And so I’ve had and that was an amazing culture shock for
me. That happened to me as a child. That happens to me as recent as an adult
when I was there last summer, promoting my book and I was literally being
interviewed and on live television on a morning show
in Spanish and they introduced me as a New Yorker whose parents happened to have
been born in in Puerto Rico. As instead of just introducing me as a writer,
or introducing me as a fellow Puerto Rican I was like … and it totally caught me off guard
and I’m like this is live TV. How do I bounce back from that. So that’s
when my culture shock kind of like kicked in and I think I mentioned it
a little bit when I was in Mexico because one thing I did learn about
Spanish language very similar to English language is that it’s not one universal version of Spanish. Spanish in Mexico, in Spain, in Venezuela, and Puerto
Rico and American public they’re all completely different like – well not languages — but completely different vernaculars completely different idioms and are
completely different from one another. Just as English is different
depending on where you are in the world. You got something now? — I was
traveling, I was in Sarajevo and we were sitting on a restaurant on a
hilltop and the way that Sarajevo geographically is structured, it’s sort of
like if it’s a bowl, kind of, surrounded by mountains that go around it and so
there’s a lot of like a cacophony of sounds sort of bounce among the mountains and it
was around five o’clock or so and the church bells start ringing it was this
beautiful sound of you know hundreds of church bells ringing in the city, And then
as the final church bells are fading, the call to prayer comes out and it follows
as you know the Sun sets and the Sun setting as it goes down the river valley
and so you’ve got the call to prayer. And so the beginning of the call of prayer is all
slightly mis-matched by a couple of seconds as a marches down the valley and
so you’ve got this beautiful cacophony of the call to prayer and lingering
church bells and they’re all bouncing back and forth off the mountains into — the call to prayer is for muslims, correct? — yeah You know and it’s like a cacophony sort of rose up this bowl, that is
graphically Sarajevo, a city famous for the mixture of cultures. I don’t
know if I have like a point of this story except that it was a beautiful
just sort of blending of language, in this case, language through music that completely
shocked me as a you know American that had not done much traveling in this life
it’s a sort of this auditorium memory that’s always going to stick with me. So I’m also very interested in minority languages, like languages that are minority languages in their own country like Welsh in Great Britain, for example, I’m especially interested in the minority languages of Russia. The …
languages of Russia, in particular. Uralic languages in general and its really hard to find resources for learning those in english, but i might want to learn those eventually. do you think that would be worth it even though it is not necessary to communicate with people because like you said, language has it’s own like intrinsic value. Do you think it has an intrinsic value there too ? I think it’s still the same. I think what we said before still kinda resonates. The one thing I will add is that there is definitely a power in
emersion and there’s one thing to actually have instruction in class,
and there’s one thing when you’re actually immersed in a nation that actually is only
speaking that language. I’ve had a few co-workers who taught with me and all they spoke was english. And they wanted to learn Spanish and
I was like good luck. And they went to Venezuela or they went to Guatemala for like a summer, literally like the whole summer break and they came back in
the fall beginning fluent Spanish and it blew me away. I was like ‘Wow” the accent is a
little off but they were conversational and I was like “how was it” and it was like “I
had no choice I had to learn” just kind of like similar to your experience in
class but imagine that 24 hour day, seven days a week for like three
months. So what you might want to consider in the future
and also for anyone else immersion is an amazing like opportunity
to embrace a completely different place. outside, literally, outside of the
classroom and people and in this context these were all teachers and I’ve known at
least four different teachers and all completely different backgrounds. One
was on Pakistani, one was Chinese, two were just generic white, I don’t know where, there
heritage is from. I love that about white people their always like “oh I’m just white.”
I’m like “No come on you know you got some German, Dutch, Wells of something in
there” — “Oh, I’m just white” — But they all embrace the language because it was an extension of their work. They were teachers so they
went to Guatemala to teach, right? and they learned how to speak Spanish. They had no choice but they had to learn how to communicate with the
community and they — especially my my friend Rajesh was Pakistani. He lives in Washington, DC
And there’s a large population of immigrants from Latin
America who Spanish is their first language. And he’s actually able to engage
and now he able to create curriculum because he can speak Spanish and is able
to create a curriculum that engages with his student and he actually retired from
teaching and now he actually works with the Department of Education in DC developing
curriculum for different schools all because he took one summer and did it an immersion program and it just was like it’s completely mind-opening,
I’m not even gunna say eye opening, mind opening experience for him and it completely gave
him a new global perspective and in his case, it made him a better scholar and a better educator. It seems to me like, if that is your final goal. Then learning Finnish and learning Russian
is probably exactly what you need to set yourself up to be a
person who can learn in that environment. Also it comes in minority languages are
incredibly important and a lot of languages are being lost and I think
that if that’s something that interests you, you should absolutely
pursue that. … But I think that languages that are in danger of dying off … are incredibly important and I think that immersion is absolutely the best
way to do it that that’s how I’ve done — language immersion. It’s incredibly
hard but it’s incredibly rewarding and also like I guess my last push for
viewing Arabic other than you know we have we have the food. I was not MIST major by the way, I finished half the major and then I told … that “by
the way I decided anthropology” — “you did what” — “she was the adopted MIST major” — I’m the adopted MIST major. I got a plaque it counts. So I was talking to my friend the other day who was a MIST major, she was in Arabic with me,
throughout, in fact, she took more Arabic and I did while I was in Egypt she was
in Morocco etc. And so we were talking she’s taking her prereqs and going to go
to med school and I’m in first year of grad school and my finals are in like
nine days and I’m freaking out and I’m kind of like talking to her and I’m like
was undergrad this hard? I don’t remember it being this hard? How is it this hard? And she goes “Eh … we survived Arabic was …
we can survive anything” I haven’t heard any questions from that end of the room — yeah just a lot of hard stares. Right there — So I have a question but I am not sure how to phrase it. What do you say to a person like myself who wants to
pursue one language pretty in-depth or multiple languages and like a service
conversation level like do you think in your own experience you regret going
all-in on say Russian, Arabic, or Spanish would you rather learn multiple
languages or just anything you have to say about that. I don’t know how to say
that otherwise. — Well personally I go all-in or nothing. No that’s
that’s not true. So I’ve only taken an Arabic in my time here but that is not
the first foreign language I’ve studied so like I said I grew up pretty
bilingual so I don’t necessarily, I mean, I consider English a foreign language
when it suits me. But otherwise I’ve learned French, Italian, Arabic, and I took
Latin. So I’m completely fluent in none of these but I don’t regret getting each of
them to the point of kind of like if you drop to meeting in Geneva for summer I
could get by and I could be fluent by the end of the summer.
if you drop me and you know Milan for the summer and like just let me on my
own I could survive. I think that it’s a it just depends on what you want from it,
with languages like these I’m happy with my kind of like reading capabilities and
you know the knowledge that like if I put a certain amount of effort into it
it’s there and I could perfected but for me Arabic is kind of like my baby. Arabic
I really wanted to go all in on. And Arabic I still want to go on all in on
and you know as much as I am a perfectionist I think you need to draw
the line of when you can say I speak this language meaning that I can communicate
with somebody with a ton of grammatical mistakes and you know my professor
shooting daggers at me from the corner. But like that’s okay. And when you’re
kind of like no I want to speak like a native.
I want the accent, I want the whole nine yards I think it depends on what you
want and I think that any mixture there of is fine. From like a government
perspective, I mean, you know, we would view like conversation ability multiple
languages as being as impressiveness like a credible native language ability … … Nothing, really? Thank you, at least one woman speaks up. Not sure how to phrase this but like … So I’m a Spanish major. And as a white person learning Spanish, — not just as a white person learning a colonial language, so like how do you like, balance the like use of that language to like connect with people — but do you consider the language like how you’re using the language like — i dont know. what do you wanna do? Do you wanna teach, do you wanna write you want to go into gov-politics, like what do you see yourself doing — I think I wanna teach — you wanna teach, where do you wanna teach? thats important because depending on where you work, what you’re going to do with the language. If you’re going to teach in a
major city in the United States, if you’re going to teach in a city near the border, for example, if you’re going to move from the United States and
go teach someplace else that’s all important in terms of
what you do with with language. I can I can say personally particularly like
having worked in a school with a very diverse staff it was already a
separate they were very very progressive they were very in tune with social
issues and we were incredibly diverse. Yes, it were Latinos like myself they
were teaching there were a lot of white white teachers as well and it was a
beautiful sight when students opened up to someone who actually spoke their
language and understood them as our parents opened up and
if it comes from a sincere place it doesn’t matter where you come from
because you’re making an effort and it’s not just Spanish I think it’s any language.
When you really make an effort to understand another people and you’re
able to communicate with them on their terms and you’re not just coming in with
this kind of like often misperceive perception of what what it is to be an
American like “ah so the matter if I speak English here and you like it like
you know Serbia” is like “oh dude, really?” It’s just like
come on you know it’s just like and that’s really what what was the power of
being multilingual because you’re respecting that you’re not living in a
in a world that revolves around your language, your English you know. I think traveling is important when you literally leave the United States
like fuck everyone is not just speaking English anymore and we live in such a monolinguistic like society, our culture so monolinguistic but you have to always remember
that new this is not the official language in United States believe it or
not it isn’t. My wife is learning Spanish now and the
reason she’s learning Spanish she’s a middle school teacher in Montgomery
County Maryland outside of DC and a lot of children from Honduras have ended up
there and have undergone just tremendous violence and they have trouble
communicating that in English of course because that that’s not the language
they grew up with and my wife has found that by learning Spanish she can more
easily connect with and empathize with and learn from those students who have undergone that violence, you know. And so in that case that that’s
coming from a good place. it’s based on communication and empathy, right? We have time for a final question — right here — not sure much directed at you.
So when you’ve learned a language but you’re not
using everyday like at work or with people who like speak that same language like
what you do to maintain it and like keep it from failing, and like to all
of you like you’ve been out of college for a while and like how you continue to like expand on — I’m sorry — I can add one thing real quick to that. My wife’s actually not a native Spanish speaker. She’s actually Korean American s o all I literally do is, just for myself is I listen to Spanish music a lot, intentionally. So
that I can actually be continually like practice because I’m not constantly
talking Spanish to someone all the time so even on my way over here I was
literally like listening to like Mark Anthony singing salsa, as I’m ironing my
shirt. So that that’s what I do for myself to kind of immerse myself as
often as I can or I usually immerse the language around me.
— Yeah sorry for the face I’m still dealing with the fact that I’m in alum,
mentally I’m 12. So yeah I think actually music is a big part of it. The way I think of language
I think of language I think that it’s kind of like this I don’t know substance
but if you don’t use it for a while just let’s put in the box and box gets locked
and the key gets you know put somewhere and then when you have to use it again
you’re like oh crap what did I do with that key it’s kind of a kind of gift
your passport that you created is like you know junior year of high school or
something you’re like what was that into junior year of high school. — Its not like riding a bike in other words. — No. But after a while it does it’s there it
comes back but it needs a little bit of coaxing and I think music is actually a
very powerful way to learn language and we actually learned Arabic through music
a lot and that’s still how I keep up with it for Arabic specifically there’s
this wonderful app called alchemy which is like Pandora but for Arabic music I
guess that you can kind of like even choose like what country comes from or
like what kind of style and basically a … is my homeboy. So
that’s how I keep up with it I also like get all of these recommendations for my
Egyptian friends and being like hi what’s the worst Egyptian soap operas
that I can watch. and then I just kind of
I haven’t I haven’t gotten to it yet but I have a list of just kind of being like
okay just absolutely no like Netflix being Friends for the 20th time and to
watch this because then you have to actively we have to watch it if you think about
it and to just be interacting with the language.
If you’re at a reading level reading really helps. Even for myself sometimes
I’ll read books exclusively in Cyrillic just I live an internal fear of
forgetting Cyrillic. I think there’s a lot of ways to keep up with it. You good? Yeah I dont have anything to add. Well great. I would like to thank all of our panelists for coming.

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