The Importance of Language in a Worldly Society

On Wednesday, (05/15/13), we were at the Universidade de Campinas or UNICAMP for short. I learned that Campinas is a very interesting city to live in: almost three million people live there; Campinas is the third largest industrial region in Brazil; and 50 of Brazil’s largest companies have branches in Campinas. When it was originally founded it was an agricultural town.

We were there the whole day, but there is one thing I’d really like to reflect on in particular. This experience would be the presentation WSU students gave to UNICAMP students. The faculty on the trip let us know the night we got to Brazil that UNICAMP asked us to have a student presentation… this didn’t really make any of us nervous, but it did make me think it would be difficult giving a 30 minute presentation with 12 very involved WSU student leaders. We spent a whole evening diplomatically figuring out what we should say about WSU, and ended up with seven students who wanted to present (myself included).

We were all ready to go and ended up being about ten minutes late to our presentation, and we were all shocked to walk into a packed classroom of at least 50 students who were eagerly waiting to hear about an American college experience. Our presentation went incredibly well- we talked about where WSU is, our pride, our campus resources, and how we strive to connect students to the greater community outside of academia.

When it came time for questions, not many students were asking questions right away. Luckily we had some help answering the more difficult questions by the faculty in attendance, and by the end the whole classroom was laughing when we were able to describe that in good old Pullman, Washington there is the incredible experience of having four seasons!

After the presentation, a student was talking with Kathryn (another WSU student on the trip) and myself about how she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to come to the US because of her English. We asked her if it was the written or spoken English she was worried about and she said oral. I need to stop here for a second and say that this comment totally floored me. Not only did she speak incredibly well, but she was so easy to understand. I’m sure that even with years of Portuguese lessons I wouldn’t be as easily understood as this student…. so why, I ask, am I not fluent in another foreign language like my new friend, Gabriela?

Countries around the world are teaching their youth English at a very young age, and Americans are continuing to fall further and further behind in bilingualism in such a worldly, globalized time. The US is recruiting more and more international students to their universities while US students are going to countries that are heavily populated with English speakers. This aggravates me. I know that I am being somewhat hypocritical with this comment, but it really makes me mad. Students all over the world are taking the time to learn English to come to America, and what is the US doing in return?

I can’t ever say that I have stopped to think about this exchange of students, and this trip is giving me an entirely different view. I am so thankful that the US is privileged in having so many foreign students coming to our institutions because it enriches the lives of the American students who aren’t going abroad. I know that this trip is going to give me so much more patience and respect for the international students that I encounter on a weekly basis at WSU. It is not easy going to another country and being around unaccepting people.

In the end, Kathryn and I exchanged information with Gabriela so that we can help her with English, and so that she can help us with Portuguese. And, I really have to express my respect for all of these Brazilians I have encountered who know English. It is not an easy language, and you are more worldly for your efforts.

I am more determined than ever to learn Portuguese and come back to Brazil!

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The UNICAMP campus is even beautiful!!

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