Filipina Exchange Student Tongue-Tied in SF

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For the past four months, I have spoken English more than I have my entire life. Although I have been raised in an environment that allowed me to be fluent in both English and Tagalog, the landscape of communication greatly changed for me since I arrived from the Philippines and moved to USF for a semester-long program.

Attending school in Manila with English as the language of instruction definitely worked to my advantage. Growing up, I didn’t have trouble with English and was as comfortable speaking it as Tagalog. However, upon my arrival in San Francisco, I realized that learning to speak the language was completely different than living in the culture that comes with it.

The classes I took were small in size—this meant everyone was bound to talk in one way or the other. There are times where I spoke in class and couldn’t get my point across as I was struggled to find the perfect Tagalog-to-English translation. After watching certain emotional videos or heart-wrenching readings, I would find it difficult to relay my thoughts because the words I knew didn’t have an English equivalent.
It’s not a case of not knowing how to construct sentences properly or misusing the rules of grammar. The barrier stems from my personal history and my identity, just as someone from Europe, let’s say, might have trouble understanding a person of Asian descent. The difficulty for me begins when the clash of cultures make it impossible for a fluid communication to occur—that is, when the context from which we’re speaking differs in so many ways.

This everyday scrimmage comes from the fact that even though I speak the language, I haven’t really lived among those who exclusively speak it. Though I engaged in purely English conversations with my peers back home, the context in which we spoke was purely Filipino. My situation here challenged me to bridge the divide and exert extra effort to understand where the people I interacted with were coming from (and vice-versa). My story may vary among the international student community, but it is safe to say that we have all felt a huge shift in terms of practices and culture in our new home—and it was something that we had to learn on top of the rigor of our classes.

This experience has taught me that we all hold a common desire and thirst for knowledge. The atmosphere of the academic community here in USF is nothing different compared to my university back home, and this is one of the few things I’ve learned to love about the dynamics of language. USF promotes a vision of social change and justice, and as a Filipina, I can proudly say that even though I’m going back in a few weeks, I’m bringing home with me the language that knows no barriers—the one that strives to make a difference and the one that fights to change the world.

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