Catherine Dos Santos is a first-year international studies student with a concentration in the Middle East, hoping to pursue a double major in Women’s Studies. She is a first-generation immigrant from Venezuela, having moved to the United States in July 2010. Being raised with Portuguese parents she has a mixed cultural background, which is part of what makes her so unique. What makes her even more interesting is the fact that Catherine is polylingual, speaking French, English, Portuguese and Spanish. She is also currently learning Arabic! Her Campus UFL sat down with Catherine to ask her about her perspective on language, its role, and why it’s important in the status quo.
Her Campus UFL (HCUFL): Did you experience any culture shock when you moved to the United States? If so, how?
Catherine Dos Santos (CS): Yes. Part of it was the education system; it was very different from Venezuela’s. I came into a private school because, at the time, I was here with a student visa. So I enrolled into a very small school, but it was still enormous compared to what I was used to. My school in Venezuela had around 40 students, so we were a very tight group. It was a lot of getting used to. In Venezuela, we are very open with our physical expression of feelings. The biggest shock was mainly the language and relationship with my teachers. In Venezuela, you address your teachers by their first name, and it’s all very personal. It was a struggle that I had to go through.
Catherine traveling in Avignon, France, during Summer ’16.
HC: What would you say the secret is to learning a new language?
CS: You have to immerse yourself in the culture. You can’t learn culture separate from language or vice versa. I think the best way of learning French, for example – a language of which I wasn’t surrounded by at the time I was learning it – was listening to a lot of music and watching French movies. I then also had the opportunity to go to the country and spend some time there on a study abroad trip in 10th grade. This really helped with fixing my accent and other aspects of the language that you don’t learn in a normal classroom setting.
HC: From a personal and societal standpoint, why, in your opinion, is learning new languages important?
CS: I think that learning new languages automatically introduces you to a new culture. By knowing about a culture that is completely different than yours, you are forced to see things from a different point of view. This makes you more sympathetic to other people. I think it makes you more accepting of other people in general. As a society, I think it’s very important to know a little bit of another language just to realize that there is more to the world than just your country or perspective because we are such a global society, and we should stay that way.
HC: How has being polylingual helped you in life and in school?
CS: It’s always a great skill to have when traveling to other countries. I’ve formed friendships as well. Even within my fraternity, we have a group of students who speak French, so we can hold meetings and just speak in French together. Also, [it helps] professionally. I have worked in customer service, and there is something special about seeing a customer’s joy when you speak their language. I’ve had so many French and Brazilian customers light up when I speak to them in their language. It’s little moments that make knowing the language worth it.
Interviewing Catherine was a great opportunity for me to collect some insight into what it truly means to be culturally intellectual. It’s certainly uplifting to gain the perspective of a first generation immigrant and to hear about her success in this country. Her stellar articulation of her experience in living and learning the American culture while maintaining a solid grasp on her cultural heritage is nothing short of admirable. Catherine’s dedication to expanding her mind through language is important to recognize these days because there are people out there who may be closed-minded, or maybe just don’t get the same opportunities to familiarize themselves with cultures unknown. This talk serves as an important reminder that simply learning how another culture communicates is a valuable and rewarding skill you can develop to broaden your view on the world you live in. Gracias, Catherine!
Catherine Dos Santos