Completing the Language and Communication track of the Global Fellowship Program has really widened my understanding of how language is central to cultural diversity. After fifteen weeks of interacting with people from different nationalities in the English Conversation Clubs and dozens of intriguing discussions with Yue, I have greatly evolved from the relatively primitive understanding of Language I began the program with. Before completing the track, I saw language as a passport, a point of entry into a whole new world. As many languages a person knows as many cultures can they have access to. Now that I look back on this idea, I can see how naïve it is. Because languages are not tokens out there for collecting, neither are they ciphers for understanding some code. The program has made me see how language is a skin, which encloses the subjectivity of its people. It serves as a canvas for their personal experiences, continually altered by its millions of individual brushstrokes yet collectively representing all of them. More than anything else, a language is a legacy, a living testament of the encoded history and sensibilities of a people. To learn a language is to not merely get access to a culture, it is to bear witness to a cultural experience with all the responsibility that comes with it.
Many experiences over the course of the program helped me evolve my understanding of language. A constant catalyst in many of my thinking was the weekly conversation club meeting where I got a chance to hear what representatives of different cultures thought about common themes. Over the course of these meetings, I could see that the world is so much more diverse than the archetypal understanding of Global North/South that a lot of the discourse was focused on. In reality, culture sprouts in various diverse interstitial spaces and I am glad I was able to see that through the program.
A challenge for me throughout the journey was being a representative of English to Yue. While I have been speaking English for all my life, it is not my native language and many of the questions Yue asked made me see English in a completely new light. I could see how a language cannot be divided into a native/non-native binary and how all of us are somewhere in the middle when it comes to truly knowing a language. I will cherish many such realizations that I have gained from the program and am very grateful for this opportunity.