A Student’s Struggle to Speak English Leads to a Career as a Communicator

by Diana Drake

Fiorella Riccobono first contributed to Knowledge@Wharton High School back in 2015, when she was interviewed for her high school social entrepreneurship project helping coffee bean farmers in Northwest Haiti. She has stayed in touch ever since, sharing insights from her college and social-awareness experiences at Florida State University. You can check out Riccobono’s KWHS contributions in the Related KWHS Stories tab accompanying this article.

As always, we appreciated hearing from Riccobono this week, when she reached out to tell us about her new job (she graduated in December) and share her perspective on a very personal topic: how her journey learning to speak English has influenced her life and career decisions.

In this personal essay, she expresses why she hopes that “more people in our society, especially in today’s political climate, analyze their perceptions of disadvantage and accept that qualities like language “barriers” can in fact be personal strengths.”

I vividly remember the moment when I became a shy girl and developed a profound fear of public speaking. I was in my pre-k classroom sitting in a big circle of 4-year-olds, when our teacher asked us to share what we had eaten for breakfast. My parents had immigrated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. from Venezuela shortly before my brother and I were born, and we only spoke Spanish at home. However, this was my second year enrolled in school in Davie, Florida, so I had picked up enough English to understand the question. But I was still learning. I raised my hand and responded “cereal con leche.” My visibly angry teacher asked me again and again to repeat my answer, and I couldn’t understand why.

Falling Silent

Eighteen years later, I still recall the shame of being scolded for my inability to communicate in the appropriate way – in this case, fully in English. Luckily, my teacher’s aide spoke Spanish and translated that I was saying “cereal with milk.” But at that point, the damage had been done. I was wounded and crying. I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t speak in class unless I absolutely had to. It was an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy; something a four-year-old girl should never experience.

That feeling stayed with me. In high school, I would choose to be absent on days when I knew I had to present projects to the class. My eyes would water when I had to speak in front of my classmates, my voice would shake, and so would my legs.

This story marks the start of my improbable triumph.

My favorite author, Malcom Gladwell, poses an interesting question: “Why do we automatically assume that someone who is smaller or poorer or less skilled is necessarily at a disadvantage?” I believe that we have a very limited definition of what constitutes an advantage.

Now, at the age of 22, a recent graduate of Florida State University and a new employee of the Florida Senate, I am very clear on my own advantages. Being the daughter of two Venezuelan immigrants made me the professional woman I am today, and that identity has been a driving factor in my success.

Much of the credit goes to my so-called language “barrier” and struggle with “broken” English. During my years of learning English, my mom and I would sit down together to do my homework. When I was tired of studying, and I didn’t want to practice spelling out any more words, my mom would softly and persuasively say, “Dale Fiore, otro treinta minutos, porque cuando tu aprendes, yo aprendo tambien,” which translates to: “Let’s study another half hour, Fiore, because when you learn, I learn too.”

That phrase kept me going. We would sit there at the table laughing hysterically as we butchered the words we were spelling aloud to each other. When test day came, I would remember the mistakes we made, because they were so funny to me, and that helped me memorize the correct spelling. The way we had to study turned spelling and vocabulary tests into a fun game. I began to appreciate a certain joy and fulfillment of studying for the sake of knowledge, not to overcome an inadequacy, and I also had the deep satisfaction of watching my mom learn English.

Conventional thought suggests that if you live in the U.S. you should learn English, and we eventually did. But the truth of the matter is that not knowing English made me a better student. It meant that I had to work harder and couldn’t lose focus in class. I paid close attention to how people spoke and pronounced words. When I was tired and wanted to stop, I had to keep studying. Many would argue that my inability to fluently speak English in my childhood was a weakness, when in fact it turned out to be one of my greatest strengths.

While I still hold onto some of the feelings I had all those years ago in my pre-k classroom, I have grown to embrace my Venezuelan heritage and language as motivations for my achievements in the U.S. The fact that I am not a native English speaker has made me more empathetic. It has helped me truly understand why diversity of thought is such a strength in the workplace, and, ironically, has made me a far more effective communicator.

I majored in finance, economics, and social entrepreneurship at Florida State, and graduated a semester early in December 2018. I am now the reading clerk for the 2019 session of the Florida Senate. Our state constitution requires senators to read bills three times before voting on them. I stand at the podium and read these documents aloud for the 60 days that the Senate is in session, navigating the language that could ultimately become Florida law. That one-time shy, silent little girl actually pursued and landed a job that now requires me to regularly stand in front of 40 state senators and read proposed legislation – in English.

I also speak Spanish every day, with family and friends. My college roommate and best friend is from Mexico, so we speak to each other in Spanish. I am bilingual in my professional life, as well. Just this week, the Florida Senate phones were blowing up with citizens supporting or condoning a controversial bill that entered committee. This specific bill prompted lots of calls from Spanish speakers and I was the only person on staff who could speak Spanish. So I answered the phones and spoke with the Spanish citizens, communicating about their opinions on this piece of legislation. I helped the voices of non-English-speaking citizens be heard.

Shifting Perceptions

I see how speaking English as a second language actually adds to the richness of this country. As a Venezuelan immigrant, I grew up forcing myself into situations where I had no choice but to confront my fears, and I would do it again and again until that specific situation no longer made me uncomfortable. I have contributed deeply to my school and now my work communities because my “otherness” sparked my intellectual curiosity and my desire to work that much harder to achieve my personal goals.

My hope is that more people in our society, especially in today’s political climate, analyze their perceptions of disadvantage and accept that qualities like language “barriers” can in fact be personal strengths that open up entire worlds of opportunity and accomplishment.

To the students who relate to my experiences and who may be struggling with their inability or even lack of desire to learn English, I ask you to shift your perception and embrace the opportunity in your challenge. I ask you to consider how you can spin this perceived weakness and draw energy from it to become a stronger student, friend, and contributing member to society. Don’t accept the notion that you are disadvantaged. Learning English and being able to effectively communicate with your peers is rewarding. More importantly, how you speak, complete with your thick, beautiful accent, is an advantage and an asset, not an inadequacy you must overcome.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Fiorella Riccobono says, “My hope is that more people in our society, especially in today’s political climate, analyze their perceptions of disadvantage.” What does she mean by this?

How would you describe Fiorella’s “improbable triumph?”

Does Fiorella’s story resonate with you? Can you relate to some of her struggles learning the English language and how that has helped to define her course? Why or why not?

9 comments on “A Student’s Struggle to Speak English Leads to a Career as a Communicator

  1. While scrolling through the articles listed on the webpage, this unique one caught my eye immediately. What it described is a complete mirror of my experience, my pain and my struggle. More importantly, when looking through it, I realized the way I should face myself, both strengths and weaknesses.
    Fiorella’s “improbable triumph” is truly “improbable”, at least that’s what I believed before finishing this article. She did undergo many challenging situations, difficulties that her first language Spanish but not English. And for me, a second language learner becomes a Florida Senate sounds totally incredible. Since my first language is also not English, I know how much struggles and courage it needs to be able to speak out in front of people, let alone standing in front of 40 state senators and read proposed legislation. But I believe that’s one of the main reason why she made to her position, it is because she already has a strong heart, enough self-confidence and a constant thirst for knowledge. These were all honed from her school years.
    I was always the top students back in my home country and English was one of my strongest subject. However, it was opposite when I came to Canada. The “barrier” of language discourages me from participating in school activities, being actively during class. During my first year, Every time I was in class, I was worried whether the teacher would ask me to answer questions or not. I always remember my first speech. I practiced it over and over again, but some students still didn’t understand what I was talking about and I couldn’t answer their questions. Same as Fiorella, my mom also played an important role. She practice my presentation’s script with me and she told me that there is no way to be ashamed by my accent or the fact that I am a second language learner. She told me that’s exactly the point I should be proud of myself because I am able to speak both two languages.
    I have always been grateful for my parents, without them I couldn’t be where I am today. I enrolled my school’s principle list every semester and honor roll on the Waterloo Math Contest. Now, I am preparing for my debate club as a leader with my friends. I always believe man grows in adversity, I don’t regret any of the attempts I’ve made, even if I fail and fall. Isn’t the realization of my shortcomings also a progress? Tribulation is accompanied by harvest. Just as Fiorella Riccobono says to “analyze perceptions of disadvantage.” I was contradict to communicate because my accent, lack of vocabulary, different culture, when I read the last paragraph of this article, I just found that all my worries and evasions were ridiculous and untenable.
    This article once again strengthens my heart and guides my future efforts, to become a stronger student, friend, and contributing member to society. Everything I have and experienced has made me who I am now, and it takes that to make me whole.

    • Hi Jasmine,

      Thank you for your fantastic comment!

      Also as an immigrant to Canada at an older age (14), I find your experience much more relatable than Fiorella’s. I believe that one of the reasons why I agreed to my parents’ idea of immigrating, is that I was confident in my “English” language, and that was partly because I was performing well during English class in my home country. However, it was really different being in an environment where you are forced to speak the language. My problem wasn’t during class and academics but in my social life. What a teenage girl needs the most perhaps is a social life, friends. At least for me. But it was extremely hard to make friends if I wasn’t willing to make a step out, to talk to people. Fortunately, with my mother’s little push, I was able to do so. Even though I stumbled through the beginning, attending lots of social events and making awkward conversations, I eventually made a couple of great friends and got to know many other people. Joining the debate club and filing applications to other councils was difficult because I wasn’t confident in my speaking and was afraid that I would make fun of myself. Which I did, modelling the motion “THW lift patents” supporting patents. But I gained a lot of valuable experience in the process, found my passion in debating, and ultimately improved my English speaking and confidence. However, I do believe that this struggle is just a part of the journey of fitting in the new language environment.

      This unique title also did catch my eyes, but I wasn’t feeling related while reading the article. I thought that at the age of four, it would be really easy to learn English and be amalgamated into the American society. It was hard to believe that a four-year-old memory could be carved so deeply in her mind, also how does over ten years of living in an English environment she is still not confident of her language? With doubt and suspicion, I finished the article.

      I agree with you and Fiorella that by analyzing and reconsidering our “perception of disadvantages”, we could learn how to embrace and turn our so-called disadvantages into motivation and strength. However, I do not believe that her “triumph” is “improbable”. In my opinion, her “triumph” is being confident of speaking English and eventually becoming an employee of the Florida state senate. Admittedly, she is quite successful in her confidence and career. But again, as a person living in the states, speaking English for so many years since childhood, her English will come as she grows. I believe that her “solving all the obstacles” is just a process of fitting into the new environment, what actually brought out her “triumph”, is her action of acknowledging and recognizing her former disadvantages, then turning it into her interest and continued pursuing it.
The society is biased, being a good English speaker is important for our success in the future or just to be more like a part of the society, but the process of learning is crucial as well, it teaches us life-long skills — persistence and motivation for learning.

    • Jasmine, your story of progress and growth in language learning is truly inspiring. Your journey, from feeling apprehensive about participating in class due to language barriers to becoming a leader in the debate club in your second language, showcases a remarkable testament to your determination and perseverance. Reading about your experiences motivates me to push myself further in my own language studies. In a few years, I’ll be taking my AP Spanish exam, and your story constantly reminds me that with determination and continuous effort, I can overcome the challenges I currently face in learning Spanish and achieve my goals.
      Your narrative has given me valuable insights into the complexities of language acquisition, which directly resonates with the struggles my parents faced when learning English as a second language. I used to find humor in their pronunciation struggles, not fully comprehending the difficulties they were encountering. However, my own language-learning experiences have humbled me, and now I hold a profound respect for their determination in learning a second language. My language teacher once said, “Once you dream in a language, you know you’re fluent,” and this notion fascinates me as I strive to achieve a similar level of language mastery in Spanish.
      Your narrative also got me thinking about the remarkable ability of some individuals, including yourself, to learn languages quickly. This phenomenon is not limited to children but also extends to certain adults. I decided to conduct some of my own research on the topic to gain a better understanding.
      In my investigation, I found that certain cognitive factors and personality traits can contribute to accelerated language learning. For example, individuals with strong working memory and high levels of empathy tend to grasp language nuances more quickly. Moreover, the motivation to learn a new language, much like your own drive, can significantly impact the speed of acquisition. Additionally, exposure to immersive language environments and consistent practice plays a crucial role in fostering rapid language development.
      This would also explain why children have a unique advantage in language learning, primarily due to their lack of prior knowledge in the target language. Their immersion in an environment where the target language is consistently spoken enables them to develop an intuitive grasp of grammar, pronunciation, and cultural nuances.
      Imagine a child stepping into a world where everything they hear and see is in a new language. They don’t have preconceived notions or linguistic habits to overcome. It’s a blank canvas waiting to be filled with the colors of this unfamiliar language. As they interact with native speakers and engage in daily activities, they naturally absorb the language without conscious effort. This lack of pre-existing linguistic baggage allows them to embrace the new language wholeheartedly, much like effortlessly stepping into a racecar and taking the wheel without any previous experience in driving.
      Your efforts to learn a language is truly commendable, Jasmine, and it serves as an inspiration for others to follow. Your dedication and enthusiasm for language learning are evident throughout your essay, and I want to express my appreciation for sharing your journey with us. Your story has not only motivated me personally but also broadened my understanding of the multifaceted aspects of language acquisition. Keep up the incredible work!🚀

  2. I think that perspective is one of the greatest traits that a person can have. It has the ability to bridge almost any gap of all sorts of disparity; economic, cultural, political, the list goes on and on. It’s this trait that is not found often enough in society that is key to understanding why others around you say what they say, do what they do, and believe what they believe. In the instance of Fiorella Riccobono, this was in regards to the perspective of a four year-old girl who had immigrated to the United States with her parents in search of a better life. Now 22, Fiorella boldly states “My hope is that more people in our society, especially in today’s political climate, analyze their perceptions of disadvantage”. Her saying is meant to imply that those of us who are at what we perceive as an adversity to our aspirations ought to gain more perspective to realize that it is often the greatest challenges that create the best people.

    My view on Fiorella’s “improbable triumph” revolves around the idea that her success was reliant on her individual positive mindset. She disregarded society’s notion that her not knowing English was an inherent disadvantage that she would be restrained by, and rather turns it into an opportunity to show growth and determination. She says herself that “Many would argue that my inability to fluently speak English in my childhood was a weakness, when in fact it turned out to be one of my greatest strengths”. This ideal mindset is exactly what in my opinion needs to be emphasized in society; the concept that people’s ability to move up the ladder is mostly in their own hands, and even if there are inevitable obstacles, it is the individual’s responsibility to face them head on. This is why stories such as Fiorella’s must be celebrated and showcased more often, to teach communities and especially youth to not accept that they are disadvantaged and that there is nothing that they can do about it. Mindsets that accept there is nothing left to change the status quo are the most dangerous; they not only remove any potential to make change, but pass down ideology to younger generations, creating a cycle of lost opportunity. That’s why Fiorella’s “improbable triumph” and stories like it must be highlighted in communities all across the world.

    In regards to Fiorella’s story, it resonates quite deep personally with my family and I. As the son of immigrants, it was easy to relate to the struggles she describes of getting past the initial language/cultural barrier that occurs when getting used to living in a new country. My parents came to the United States 17 years ago, knowing a few sentences they had learned from a Hindi-to-English pocketbook dictionary, a couple hundred dollars, and a 3 year old son, my older brother. I was born a year later, and then we eventually moved to Tampa, Florida as my dad had received a job offer. As I was born in the US and naturally learned the language, culture, and customs, I became more and more observant of the divide between what I saw as “normal” at school and what my parents did. They had been in the country for a number of years, but still were speaking that “broken English” that Fiorella references. Naturally as a kid, I met and hung out with my friends outside of school, often encountering their parents who had often either lived their whole life in America or had been living here for decades. They spoke perfect English, much better than that of a eight-year-old, and certainly better than that of a husband and wife that had only been in the country for a few years. As I came home from playing with my friends, I became frustrated at communicating in English with my parents as they were not as good as the moms and dads I met at my friends’ houses. Being naive, I did not understand why they were unable to speak that fluent English that I always listened to outside my home. I actually became embarrassed when friends came over to my home to hang out, only to be confused by how my parents tried to greet them using English that was often grammatically wrong and covered with a thick accent. I was ashamed of it for a long time, and looking back I even admit it made me angry that my family was different than others. I just wanted to be the acclaimed “normal” that every kid always desired. However, as I began to grow up, I had an experience that completely changed the lense that I was looking at my parents through. That year I had begun staying up later at night to complete homework and other commitments that started as high school began becoming more demanding. On a particular night that year, when I had finally finished my homework and whatever else I had to do that late night, I decided to get some water downstairs before I went to bed. When I came down, I saw that my father had left his computer on; so naturally, I went over to turn it off. When I was about to press the power button, the screen caught my eye: “Online Tutoring for English”. It had never occurred to me that my dad was taking lessons to improve his English – to say I was surprised would be quite the understatement. The realization had dawned upon me that specific moment how difficult life truly was for an immigrant – and in this case – my parents. Any notions to myself thinking that I had a lot of work and stress to deal with in high school quickly evaporated, as I really took a moment to reflect on my father’s journey all these years later. To leave his family and friends behind in India, travel thousands of miles to a foreign country, not knowing the language or anybody to help him, and having no other option than making it knowing he had a wife and young son counting on him finally hit me. I was humbled. I was washed over with a sense of regret and shame for always being mad all those years at my parents for not being fluent English speakers. That night was years ago. Today, as I write this, I have the upmost pride in knowing that those two immigrants who came to this country not knowing the language, are MY parents. I feel that this story is not exclusively mine, but rather one that millions of other immigrants who have come to this country have experienced as well, and it’s comforting know that all of us have made it against all odds. Just like Fiorella, I want to take this moment that showed a disadvantage that my family had gotten past and transform it into a showcase of how rewarding resilience can truly be. While I was privileged to learn the language as I grew up, I appreciate the perspective of someone who only had a pocketbook dictionary and a strong will to make it in a foreign country for their family, and that is something I will cherish for a lifetime.

  3. The ability to turn a disadvantage into an advantage is what paves the way for “improbable triumph”.

    In the words of Fiorella: “I believe that we have a very limited definition of what constitutes an advantage.” She could not be more correct.

    As the son of immigrants, this is an article that resonated with me. Like Fiorella, English was not the primary language spoken within our house. Like Fiorella, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy for not being able to speak English as well as my peers. Like Fiorella, these feelings created shyness and timidity that affected my participation in class. But most importantly, like Fiorella, this ‘disadvantage’ of mine turned out to be the driving cause of one of my greatest accomplishments.

    Fiorella says that not knowing English made her a better student. She cites the extra effort she had to put in to understand concepts as the root of her strong work ethic. My own childhood was characterized less by a struggle to learn English, but more by a persistent feeling of insecurity about cultural norms. In other words, while I was able to overcome the language barrier, the cultural barrier that existed created a constant pressure of inadequacy; it felt like everyone was part of an inside joke that I wasn’t allowed to know. But in the same way Fiorella responded to adversity by bouncing back with fervor, I responded to my perceived disadvantage by turning it into an advantage. I developed a passion for public speaking in middle school, determined to change my impression of “the quiet kid” into someone who was outspoken and confident. When I think back to what ignited that sudden change, I honestly think it was simply to spite those who underestimated me. It was a way for me to put myself out there and feel included despite the nagging feeling of cultural difference that made me feel separated.

    This passion for public speaking developed into a passion for argumentation. I joined the debate team in high school and won many awards. More importantly, I made friends and broadened my perspective. Last year I was even fortunate enough to be selected for the USA development debate team, representing the nation while competing against international teams across the globe. The experiences I had as a part of this team are what makes Fiorella’s statement ring so true for me. Meeting debaters from all over the world changed my perspective – what society considers an advantage is extremely limited in its scope.

    In the world of international debate, English is the lingua franca. You would think that the Western countries would then be at an advantage, being more comfortable with English and thus being better speakers. Yet, some of the best communicators I’ve met speak English as a second language. When we versed the national Bangladesh team, we were amazed by how skillfully they debated. Yes, they had an accent, and yes their grammar and word choice were awkward at times, but the meaning they conveyed was poignant. If the round felt difficult, the conversation I had with them in Bengali afterwards felt like they were running circles around me. I realized that they focused on meaning of the words not how they sound. They may not have been familiar with English, but their ideas were strong and they conveyed them directly and powerfully. Their articulation wasted no time, unlike them teams from Western countries, who used extravagant vocabulary and complicated metaphors. Team Bangladesh went on to do extremely well in the tournament despite their unfamiliarity with English, truly encapsulating the essence of “improbable triumph”.

    From the shy, timid student, to the debater representing the USA, I had an improbable triumph of my own. As I found my voice and people listened, I realized that the cultural barrier I thought was inhibiting me was empowering me. At first it was simply by giving myself an obstacle to overcome, but then I realized how my own cultural experiences gave me a diverse worldview that enhanced everything I did. It propelled me to my position on the national debate team which served to further my diverse worldview. Aaditya mentioned his personal story about his parents in an earlier comment, Jasmine and Eileen discussed their hardships in immigrating to Canada, and Fiorella mentions her own struggles in the article above. However, in the end, the disadvantages we all faced made us stronger and gave us character. In a way, I am grateful for the disadvantages I had to deal with.

    Throughout the article, and above in my own comment, the term improbable triumph has been used to describe success in the face of disadvantages. Yet, it seems that triumph becomes more probable in the face of disadvantages that must be overcome and learned from. We really should change our conception of advantage then, because disadvantages can be advantages in disguise and make improbable triumphs less improbable.

  4. Diana wrote about her story as an immigrant who was having a hard time breaking the language barriers in the United States. I felt camaraderie with her story as a foreigner who has gone through a similar experience in adapting to a culture and language that I have never been exposed to ever since I was born. She said she was having a hard time breaking the implicit barrier between her and people in the States, and so did I. It took me so long to get used to just speaking and writing my thoughts in English to share with my friends, and many people are struggling with that too. I was admitted to my current school in the first year of the Pandemic, and trying to make friends when everyone had to stay inside their homes was a horrible experience. I took all of my classes virtually, without a single experience of speaking English. My school initially did not even provide an ESL program to help foreign students like me. Also, I was not able to socialize with other kids in the school because there were no chances. I finished my first year with a lot of struggles, and I moved into the school for the second year. I tried to make lots of friends because I realized that if I didn’t get used to this environment, I thought I would never be able to get friends in school. So, I decided to play some sports, join clubs, and be active in class.

    During those times, I’ve seen many students who are also having a hard time like me. I’ve seen a lot of smart Asian students talented in many different fields, but are unable to express their creative ideas as they were not able to speak English fluently. I remember the time when, I was in my math class, and we were solving a hard calculus problem that required us to see it with a creative perspective that people normally cannot even imagine. However, Chan, my Chinese friend, raised his hand and tried to explain his thoughts on the problem in front of the whole class. It took a while for many students in my class to understand his words because of his accent and his fluency in English. Later, he had to just write down equations and variables on the board to enable others to understand what he was trying to understand. Though some people might think that it is Chan’s fault for not being able to fluently speak English while going to a public school in the United States. However, for those people, I want to ask, ‘since when did English become the Nation’s official language?’ I, knowing how talented Chan is in transforming hard math problems into simple solutions during when we worked on a math project together, felt sorry for his embarrassment.
    At that moment, I realized that the existing educational system does not support many talented students to overcome their language barrier to reach their full potential. As a person who also went through a similar experience of having a hard time, I wanted to make a change in the current form of education for future generations of students in the overlooked population. I did not want any more students to not reach their 100% potential just because of the language barrier. From my experience, I learned that the school’s ESL classes do not practically help foreign students to learn English in a short period of time. Even more, I realize that there is no support system in our education that could help foreign students who are struggling with their school work just because they cannot speak English fluently.
    Realizing that there has to be an end to this continuing educational disparity, I decided to run a student club “Near2Perfection” that can help talented students who are suffering because of language or cultural barriers. Currently, in the United States, the majority of people expect immigrants to speak English fluently, even when 14.4% of its total population consists of immigrants whose mother tongue is not English. Empathizing with these often overlooked populations in our society, I and Near2Perfection aim to support them to socialize with other students and break the language barrier to spread their innovative dreams that could change the world. For instance, one of my friends from Taiwan, Tiger Ding, was struggling in his language & literature class, and especially with speaking and writing an essay in English. Like me, he never left his home country before coming to Salisbury school, and it was the first time he came to an English-only learning environment. Our club helped him to get familiar with the different cultures and languages by introducing our club members and giving him a tour of our school. Throughout the semester, we helped him with writing essays, providing him notes on how to write a persuasive essay, while doing daily assignments together, and having lunch with other classmates to make them feel inclusive in the school community.

    After reading this article and reading through the comment section, I’m so glad that there are others who also recognize that all people, regardless of race, gender, age, and fluency in speaking English, have remarkable talents, energy, knowledge, and creativity to innovate the world. Being motivated, In the near future, I want to build a non-profit organization that promotes collaborations among lots of companies in the private industry in different countries. The goal of this organization is to play a significant role in “breaking the barrier” to help companies in different nations to introduce their innovative business ideas more easily. With my unending passion to promote equity, I am eager to collaborate with many other innovative peers in different nations to put our heads together and make the world a better place.

  5. “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” is a monumental quote stated by Kurt Cobain. This quote not only illustrates the social concern of insecurities but also reflected an image of my life in general. The article, “A Student’s Struggle to Speak English Leads to a Career as a Communicator”, was especially intriguing to me because it shows how one’s aversion towards a certain area may also make them emotionally stronger by forcing them to step outside of their comfort zone. As Fiorella Riccobono stated, “My hope is that more people in our society, especially in today’s political climate, analyze their perceptions of disadvantage.” This suggests that rather than viewing stereotypically bad behavior as something we should avoid, we should also consider the delight it has brought to us and the positive adjustments it has made to our lives as a whole. For example, Fiorella Riccobono’s inability to communicate in English when she was younger forced her to go through an ordeal that has damaged her internally, but ultimately acknowledged the idea that having communication problems is not necessarily a drawback. The student underwent the hardship of learning a foreign language and overcame her insecurities on self-consciousness which is ultimately, her “improbable triumph”.
    As a ten-year-old little boy stepped into a foreign country where the environment was completely new to him, it was inevitable for him to face issues like language barriers, culture shock and discrimination. When I immigrated to Singapore from my homeland China, where I had spent the previous ten years, I attended an international school and did not speak a single word of English. I used to be in the English as a Second Language(EAL) course for three years hoping that one day I could be moved to English as a First Language(EFL) class. Throughout these years, I have seen many of my fellow classmates get transferred to EFL after only a few months of learning English, but I still had not yet met the requirements for EFL. I often asked myself, “Am I dumb?”, “Why am I always different from others?” and “Why can’t I just be like them?” Every time I speak in front of the class, I feel that I am stuttering and making simple grammar mistakes in my speech. I used to always be afraid to look others in the eye because I knew they might be making fun of my accent and giving me judgemental looks. Later in life, I was inspired by an artist that promotes the concept of ‘self-love’. The artist has numerous songs implying that we should not try to pretend to be someone that we are not in order to fit into a specific type of community and we should always love ourselves and embrace who we are individually. That was the moment when I realized that my insecurities are confining my individuality and it is perfectly fine to be different. I joined a local service called “Her Journey” that advocates Migrant Domestic Workers’ Rights and some people questioned why I am involved in a ‘Her’ related activity. I simply replied, “I am just doing what I love”, that is empowering the women in my society and beyond. The younger me tried really hard to be a ‘normal’ student but soon acknowledged that there is no category of ‘normal’ in our modern society. I started not caring about my accent and whether I can speak ‘perfect’ English or not because as Fiorella Riccobono stated, “This story marks the start of my improbable triumph.”

  6. Fiorella’s story as the child of Venezuelan immigrants inversely mirrors my own experience as the child of two Korean immigrants. Her story starts with the shame and insecurity of not knowing English in her pre-K classroom, leading her to the realization that this “barrier” bolstered her work ethic and beliefs on diversity. My own story is similar: my struggle to resonate with my Korean identity as a Korean-American made me curious and led me to building my own community.

    “Conventional thought suggests that if you live in the U.S. you should learn English,” Fiorella writes, and while this is true, I present another version of this line in a way applicable to my life: Conventional thought suggests that if you have family from outside of the U.S., you should be able to speak their language. When I was in first grade, I traded my once-fluent Korean for perfect English. This sacrifice gave way to the insecurity and shame that Fiorella alludes to in her article. Whenever I went back to Korea to visit family, I felt a sense of isolation as the only one who wasn’t fluent in Korean. I felt like a particularly grotesque piece of artwork, while my family looked at me as if they couldn’t quite figure me out. “Can you try to speak Korean around us?” they would ask, but the moment I spoke, they would chastise my poor grammar and even poorer pronunciation. They would comment on my colored hair and clothes, blaming it on the “American influence.” Language was not the only barrier that separated me from my Korean family. Korean mannerisms and culture that my family had practiced all their lives were unfamiliar to me, only feeding my insecurity. As the shame grew, I marginalized myself from my Korean identity and pushed myself to become more American. I stopped speaking Korean altogether, because every time I did, I was reminded that I didn’t quite belong.

    Self-acceptance took a lot of work over the years, and admittedly, I still harbor some of those feelings from when I was younger. But like Fiorella’s connection to her identity, mine blossomed into a unique strength. Being Korean-American caused me to ask questions about who I really was, leading me to discover a community where my hyphenated identity has evolved into something entirely its own. Discovering the Korean-American community in my town let me uphold a blend of what both cultures have to offer; for example, many Korean-Americans bond over our experiences in Korea, the struggle of learning a language, and aspects of Korean culture that we can only confide in each other in America, such as Korean music and fashion. The Korean diaspora in the United States is comprised of nearly 2 million individuals, and after connecting with those like myself, I realized that I had spent my entire life trying to conform to one group or another when really, all I had to do was recognize that I had been part of one all along.

    At the end of her article, Fiorella writes, “To the students who relate to my experiences and who may be struggling with their inability or even lack of desire to learn English, I ask you to shift your perception and embrace the opportunity in your challenge. I ask you to consider how you can spin this perceived weakness and draw energy from it to become a stronger student, friend, and contributing member to society.” This is exactly what I aspire to do. Already, I have contributed to my school and community through the thing that made me different and made me doubt myself all my life – in this case, my Korean-American identity – because it ultimately sparked my intellectual curiosity and allowed me to cross barriers to reach people like myself. Our identities are not deficits, barriers, or obstacles, as Fiorella has found out for herself. No matter our challenges, our ethnic origins, beliefs, gender, religion, and nationalities make us who we are, and being Korean-American has allowed me to find a community between lands, oceans, and cultures that feels like home.

    • I deeply resonate with your experiences as an Asian-American navigating the waters of having many different cultural identities. As an immigrant who has lived in four countries, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and the US, I can empathize with the challenges you faced in connecting with your Korean roots while adapting to American culture.

      Although I have not experienced living in India and spent most of my formative years in Japan, my Indian heritage has always been an essential part of who I am. I always found it difficult to answer the seemingly simple question, “where are you from?” Whenever it comes up, I am faced with a dilemma: Should I say that I am Indian, even though I never lived in India, but my parents were born and raised there? Should I say that I am American, despite the fact that I have lived here for only 3 years? Or should I say I am Japanese, since I have spent many years immersed in their culture, but was always seen as a foreigner? These moments make me feel isolated from those around me, like I don’t entirely fit into one particular mold.

      However, I have learned to make light out of my situation. Akin to Fiorella’s realization of the “barrier” being a catalyst for growth, my journey has allowed me to experience the world through differing and often contrasting perspectives, providing a greater sense of depth in my life. As you put it, “Our identities are not deficits, barriers, or obstacles… our ethnic origins, beliefs, gender, religion, and nationalities make us who we are.”

      Reflecting on your story, I’m reminded of a quote from an Indian hero, Mahatma Gandhi: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” Similar to how you’ve discovered a unique strength in your assorted identity, I have learned to embrace my diversity, allowing me to better understand myself and those around me.

      Just like you, I agree that our identities are not limited to the place we currently live in, where we were born, or where we grew up; they are a culmination of our experiences and family heritage and are a part of what makes us unique. Learning about Indian values and traditions is a beautiful journey of self-discovery, and I find comfort in knowing that there are others, like you and Fiorella, who share similar experiences.

      Today, when asked the question “Where are you from?” Instead of attempting to provide a simple one-word answer, I take the opportunity to share my journey through different cultures and the countries that have been an integral part of my life. I proudly acknowledge my Indian heritage while also showing gratitude for the Japanese customs and American values that have shaped my present day self. I have come to realize that my story cannot be explained by a single place; rather, it is a beautiful mosaic of influences from the various cultures that have touched my life.

      Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us that our identities are all unique, and our ability to embrace diversity can lead to a richer, more connected world.

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