After being encouraged by a friend to volunteer with the Mid-State Literacy Council, I began tutoring an ESL student the Fall 2020 semester. As a multilingual and multicultural person myself, I figured I was well-equipped to help my student. I realize now that I underestimated just how helpful the experience would end up being for both of us.
I was raised by immigrant parents in Pennsylvania and grew up speaking Hungarian, but I only started to learn how to read and write Hungarian as a teenager. When I visited Hungary, I experienced several culture shocks that I had to overcome. Some of these shocks ranged from navigating stores and transportation to bridging the cultural divide to make friends. Around the same time, I briefly attended a French school abroad with little initial knowledge of the French language. I had to learn to interact with others and tackle daily life in a completely new language. I later started learning Arabic and even had the opportunity to study at a language center in Morocco.
Through my experiences, I learned it can be incredibly frustrating to use a new language or live somewhere new. There are times when you really struggle to communicate and express yourself, even though you know you would be able to articulate complex topics with ease in your native language. It can be easy to lose confidence. As a tutor, I soon realized that I understood many of the challenges that ESL students at Mid-State face when learning English and adjusting to life in the region. I was able to bond with others over our shared experiences with these struggles, and it felt good to incorporate an awareness of them into my tutoring in a way that not many of my language teachers had done.
The experience of tutoring also helped me become a better language learner. I now know how easy it can be to take elements of your native language or culture for granted and can now ask my instructors questions to uncover the similarities and differences between others’ backgrounds and my own. By planning engaging lessons for my student, I also learned how to teach myself new vocabulary and practice languages in interesting ways. Finally, I developed cross-cultural communication skills, which are especially important for my future career in international affairs.
Many of the skills I gained can be beneficial to anyone, regardless of their path in life. Even without any experience learning languages or interacting with people from other cultures, ESL tutoring with Mid-State Literacy Council can be a great way to gain skills while also making a positive impact on the community and students’ lives.