It’s been fantastic to meet each of my language partners, though things have been somewhat difficult with COVID. As I had mentioned in my previous reflection, I have a Mandarin, Thai, and Portuguese partner! Since two of my language partners are actually enrolled in graduate / post-graduate programs, there exist some more obvious differences simply due to the age gap between us. A great thing about being partnered with individuals older than myself, though, is that they have been able to afford unique insight and perspectives regarding various topics, and most of our conversations have not necessarily focused explicitly upon each of our cultures. In my opinion, one of the best parts about the language partner component of the Global Fellows Program is simply being able to connect with someone with these idiosyncratic perspectives and develop new friendships.

In terms of more cultural similarities and differences, one focus of some of my conversations has been the notion of learning a second language from a young age. In much of the world, English has come to be a hegemonic and necessary language, but this results in a sort of linguistic complacency among many American citizens; few people are motivated to actually learn another language and attempt to become fluent, and this greatly constrains the possibilities for cultural enrichment and more intimate cross-cultural interactions. In many other countries, though, individuals are taught their native language as well as English from a very early age, and this proficiency in multiple languages opens numerous doors. These conversations have led me to consider how people from other countries are required to assimilate into American culture in numerous ways much more so than I have before, particularly in the context of language. It is unbelievable to me that many American citizens view speaking a non-English language within the United States as somehow disrespectful and ridiculous, but I think that our educational system partially contributes to these disparities; by not requiring any level of proficiency in another language, the English hegemony is only perpetuated and exacerbated within this country, even though being able to speak another language is an amazingly invaluable skill.

Since I hope to pursue a career as a physician, the topic of medicine and the perceptions of doctors arose with two of my language partners. Within the United States, doctors are respected and occupy a position of considerable social status, but this is not the case within some other countries. In some cases, doctors are actually looked down upon and arguably not respected at all. As of recently, this has been incontrovertibly linked to the contention surrounding COVID-19 and the vaccine, but I hadn’t considered that doctor’s may be viewed poorly in other places in the world given how they are typically seen in America. I’m thankful to be a part of this program because the conversations that I have had through the language partner component have been immensely insightful and thought-provoking.