When I first arrived in State College as a naive freshman at Penn State, I found myself situated in a community far more diverse than my tiny hometown in southwestern Pennsylvania. I grew up among the emerald hillsides of Amish country in a town with only one stoplight and one grocery store. The population of my hometown is 98.9% white, and English is the only language spoken in each household scattered across the minuscule hamlet. For this reason, I found State College to be supremely refreshing, and I jumped at every opportunity to expand my horizons beyond the limits of my rather unworldly life at home.
My first venture into the exciting new world at my fingertips took me on an unexpected path, one which is creeping to a close in the last months of my senior year. During orientation week upon my arrival at Penn State, I decided to study Italian, a language completely foreign to me, but one which I found absolutely enchanting and tauntingly mysterious. I found myself completely captivated by the process of learning a new language, and my bookshelf quickly became filled with Italian dictionaries and novels as my curiosity blossomed into deeper knowledge and appreciation for the Italian language and culture. What followed was an exciting 4 years of language classes, two trips to Italy, and in a few short months, a bachelor’s degree. In my time at home sheltering from a global pandemic and soaking up a few brief weeks away from school during winter break, I am sending applications across the Atlantic to the country I have grown to love, one which I hope to soon call my home.
I have seen firsthand the beauty and complexity of learning a new language, a process which promises opportunity and advancement to every single learner. My reverence for linguistics drew me to Mid-State Literacy Council halfway through my college experience, forcing me to switch roles from learner to instructor. I was given the chance to watch other students progress as they studied English, just as I was growing as a language student at Penn State as well. My job with Mid-State Literacy Council quickly proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire college career. I watched shy, uncertain students transform into confident speakers and writers, making plans to write books and prepping for important interviews. I watched them push through frustration and confusion, closing their books with a sigh and rubbing their temples after an exhausting lesson. After weeks of slow but certain progress, I saw them gleaming at their perfectly executed assignments and even jumping for joy after being hired for their dream jobs. I saw my own love for language learning reflected in their faces, and I shared in their joy as they grew along their individual journeys at Mid-State Literacy Council.
As my time in State College comes to a close, I find myself often reflecting on my experience as a language student and as an ESL instructor. I threw myself headfirst into a realm that once seemed so inconceivable to me, one which has matured me in ways I never could have imagined. I look back at my time at Mid-State Literacy Council with only positive memories of students who quickly became friends and a work environment that pushed me and challenged me in all the best ways. In a time when we are forced to adapt and we find ourselves suddenly restructuring our everyday lives, I find comfort in knowing that these are the moments which allow us to grow. I encourage my fellow Mid-State Literacy Council instructors and language students to welcome change and embrace the unknown or the unfamiliar. Learning or teaching a language is a long, difficult process, but each challenge is only a catalyst for improvement, and your progress is bound to take you far.