Language classes have ‘the capacity to change you’

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Earth Map Ball on sand

Hannah Johnson

When I saw the news that WKU would no longer require the basic foreign language requirements of students through 2018, I shuddered in disbelief and frustration.

As a graduate who majored in nursing and Spanish there, I am disturbed. I thought back over my time at WKU. I remember the transformation I observed in my classmates and myself over my four years there.

One thing I learned: we don’t always choose the classes that teach us the most because we want to, but because it is required of us.

For example, I didn’t want to take a business communication class. In fact, no one in my class wanted to take that class. It was time consuming, made many uncomfortable and felt tedious. But, I watched my classmates change before my eyes.

The first speeches were awkward. People were embarrassed or underprepared. By the last speech, we all knew confidence came from knowing what you’re talking about and being prepared. My classmates changed because they had been taught.

I won’t forget the day I met a new student on campus and told them I was half Ethiopian. Their response made me cringe and laugh. “Oh, I’ve never met anyone from down there!” I thought for a moment, I do not think he is thinking of Ethiopia’s relationship to the U.S. and the equator.

Because I look more Latin American to the unsuspecting eye, I figured he may have had another region in mind. So, I clarified. “Ethiopia is in Africa.” He was shocked! “Really, I guess I had it confused.” We chatted about my heritage and how diverse Africa is. I’m not sure anyone ever told him that, so I was just glad to have the open discussion with him. This was not an isolated incidence in my four years there.

People do not know better unless they are taught better. The benefits of taking two classes about a culture and language different from your own have the capacity to change you more than even my required communications class changed me.

For every student I ever helped with their Spanish homework, I can say they either learned or retained almost nothing of their high school foreign language education. It is not sufficient, in most cases.

Now, as my family moves abroad next month, I am so thankful for the things I learned at WKU. I am thankful they encouraged us to study abroad. I am thankful for my professors who relentlessly instilled excellence and professionalism into us. I am thankful that I can keep up in hard but necessary conversations about crosscultural healthcare as well as crosscultural ministry. So much of that came from my education and experience at WKU.

I pray the international reach of our university continues to grow in a healthy, sustainable and intentional way.

Best Regards,

Hannah Johnson, BSN, RN

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