A conversation on the language barrier

The Asian Pacific Islander Student Association, APISA, hosted a panel discussion on language barriers. Taking place on May 18, the event consisted of two one-hour sessions, wherein three international students shared their stories and answered questions about the difficulties they had to face when they started studying at Bellevue College. At the end of each session, listeners had the chance to address the speakers and ask them questions. APISA Coordinator Gilbert Rollo explained the purpose of the event was to “give people some advice and tell them our experiences.”
At the discussion, APISA provided Asian treats and tea for their listeners. Several APISA members, other students, as well as instructors of international students attended. “It’s a challenge to present material which people from all different languages can understand,” explained programming instructor Kurt Friedrich. Stating that “the biggest problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know,” Friedrich listened to better understand his students and make learning easier for them.

During the discussion, the panelists gave answers to questions such as “Does having language or culture barriers hinder you from making new friends?” or “What are some of the challenges you face or have faced involving language barriers both socially and academically?” One of the speakers was Mei-Ching Wu, the community relations coordinator at the Office of Student Legislative Affairs. In her eyes, language barriers can also have positive effects. “Language barriers can force me to learn more about other peoples’ cultures,” she stated. When the topic came to difficulties in class, all of the panelists admitted to having experienced them, and they encouraged international students to not be shy and to speak up in class. In their experience, this gets easier after the first steps have been made.

Another topic brought up was the fact that international students sometimes can’t participate in conversations about American mainstream culture. “My classmates and professors are familiar with the popular culture and always talk and joke about new films or animation,” described Wu. “First, I couldn’t understand what they were talking about.” Other panelists agreed with her point but stressed that they were feeling much more comfortable with the mainstream culture now and that they could follow most conversations.

Rollo explained APISA first came up with the idea to hold a panel discussion when members attended a leadership conference in San Francisco held by an organization called Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education. He said that as they listened to panel discussions on different subjects there, they “thought it would be nice to have this kind of thing at Bellevue College but with more pressing ideas, like language barriers.” According to Rollo, international students at BC have been experiencing problems with language barriers forever but “can’t really put a finger on it,” and since APISA cares a lot about “getting their students heard,” they wanted to give six successful students the opportunity to share their experiences and offer advice to other students. Rollo said that they carefully chose the panelists according to the length of time they have spent in America and their level of acculturation. By having a variety of speakers from recent arrivals to a club leader and a member of the Associated Student Government, APISA aimed to have listeners relate to at least one of the panelists and receive guidance in their own situations.

APISA will be hosting more events throughout May, which is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Active for three years now, APISA is younger than other student organizations such as the African Student Association. It was “started by students who wanted to raise awareness for their issues,” explained Pavy Tho, APISA adviser. The organization is open to everyone who wants to make friends and learn about different cultures.