Essay by Stella Lee

Stella Lee of Irvine, CA, won the $600 Diana Mossip Memorial Local Group Scholarship.

My childhood summers were spent waddling through watermelon fields on my grandma’s farm in South Korea, and as I grew older, I started to explore other nations: Mexico, China, Canada, and Peru. As I heard different rhythmic patterns and phonemes around me, these trips established my interest in language and later my career goal of becoming a speech pathologist.

To learn a language different from those I speak at home, Korean and English, I decided to take Spanish in high school. Captivated by the blend of language and culture my teacher supplemented her lessons with throughout the course, I continued my studies in Spanish eagerly, ultimately skipping Honors Spanish 4 and enrolling in AP Spanish senior year.

My passion for learning the Spanish language evolved this past summer in a small town on the outskirts of Lima, Peru where my skills were tested by real faces, not a sheet of paper with multiple choice bubbles and word banks.

In Villa El Salvador, I set out to construct houses for two families. Being the only volunteer who could communicate in comprehensible Spanish, I was deemed the sole interpreter- our coordinator could not climb stairs. I stammered through introductions between my volunteer team and Edwin, our Peruvian construction leader, but caught on to the construction terminology quickly enough.

I continuously darted back and forth between my spot hammering walls together and Edwin’s side, translating whenever volunteers needed his attention. Some volunteers tried to communicate with Edwin themselves, but often misconstrued simple directions, continuing to move a finished wall backwards when he said, “This is good,” or lathering on more paint when he said, “This is enough,” in Spanish. I had to keep my eyes and ears open for these frequent misunderstanding so I could quickly clarify Edwin’s actual intentions.

This language barrier was of grave concern to my volunteer organization; the organization was considering abandoning the project for future years. Through this construction project, I was able to integrate myself into another community, something that would be such an unnecessary loss if the project were to be cancelled. Therefore, I published a handbook for communicating in Spanish that they could use, referring to my own first-hand experience to bridge the gap between two cultures. Seeing that my handbook permitted future teams’ ambitions, I decided to pursue linguistics to find better methods to connect disparate communities across the world.

I now hope to become a speech pathologist with an emphasis on children’s language acquisition. Having been accepted early into Brown University, I’m planning to study linguistics there, developing new curriculum and teaching methods after researching at the Center for Language Studies with associate director Mirena Christoff. I’m looking to apply my studies by publishing an improved version of my Spanish handbook and promoting language sharing in both the Brown and Providence communities by leading local language teaching programs through the Swearer Center’s Community Corps at Brown. By utilizing Brown’s open curriculum, I hope to combine studies in linguistics with sociology and psychology in order to find more effective ways to draw attention to the importance of language. I aim to take my interests in language and improve the broader community’s communication abilities as a speech pathologist, ultimately helping children, the future of today, better articulate their ideas once limited by unclear communication.


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