Branham has a very welcoming, and diverse, range of students. We saw that out of the 356 responses from our survey, the three largest categories of race identification were Caucasian, Hispanic, and mixed. And of course, with such diversity, we see students who speak various languages. We tend to not pay attention to it, but these bilingual students have their own inner community and perspectives, influenced by belonging to a particular culture.
Some unique candidates at Branham are Hanya Ahmed and Rania Belamesh, who speak the main Ethiopian language Amharic. Not very often do we see students who speak a Semitic language, so when asked about Hanya’s reaction to finding someone who speaks the same language, she said, “It is one of the most exciting moments because it usually means our parents know each other”, portraying how language can create an immediate connection. Aside from having a stronger connection to family, being bilingual can create a stronger connection to friends too, even being a benefit to everyday interactions.
Hanya said that speaking another language allows her to use it as a “conversation starter”, making it more comfortable and interactive when meeting new people. She said, “I recently met this group of girls and was kind of shy to join their circle but since we had to eventually talk, after asking each other’s names, I told them what my name meant in Amharic and they were interested in learning.”
Other than being a propelling device in socialization, Hanya said that speaking another language has been “one of the most helpful things because it makes memorizing things so much easier.” Giving an example, she said that while taking Spanish, she used it to remember the vocabulary and “some of the grammar rules through Amharic since they were somewhat related.”
But does language affect how these students view and interact with their peers? On one hand, Hanya said she does not see any effects on interaction because “It is in a sense, an interchangeable nature”. On the other hand, Rania replies that being bilingual “makes you understand and feel for other cultures as well”, to illustrate this, she said, “Whenever my friend speaks Spanish with her family around me, I understand the importance of being bilingual and the relationships it creates with families and friends who speak it. So as a whole it does make me appreciate a lot of different languages and puts life into perspective”.
Provided that there are minor benefits, relative to a larger spectrum, language can often be referred to as an eye opener into another “world” by establishing cross cultural relationships and in general, allowing people to become less biased and more understanding. With this in mind, we should become more involved with our bilingual students who have this different insight and outlook, because they are a large part of the Branham community.