[Oct. 2016 Features] Bilingual students bring multiple cultures to Staples

By Charlie Colasurdo ’18

 

In a New York Times article entitled, Why Bilinguals are Smarter,” author Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reported, “Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world.” Living with one foot in two different cultures, a few Staples students speak and think in two or more languages.

Growing up 5,000 miles away in the Middle East, Efe Hazar ’18 has been immersed in another culture since he was a child. “I lived in Turkey for 12 years. The main language in Turkey, being Turkish, made it preferable [to English],” Hazar said.  

In addition to speaking Turkish at home, Hazar has, along the way, picked up a mastery of the English language. What’s more surprising, however, is Hazar’s interest and aptitude for Spanish, which he started taking as an eighth grade student in Westport. “I started Spanish when I was in second grade, taking it because it was mandatory, but now I actually enjoy speaking it.”

At home, Hazar still speaks Turkish with his family. Despite living in the US for over three years, Hazar says, “I still love eating Turkish foods such as kebabs and Turkish sweets,” which are still his favorites. On the other hand, when it comes to adapting to Westport life he says he’s “mixed in between the Westport culture with the ‘white Nike socks’ and Vineyard Vines, and still have a bit of my European culture in me.”

Though born on the same continent as Hazar, Cece Hong ’18 was raised worlds away from Turkey. Hong moved to the US over a decade ago, but she was born in South Korea where she grew up with in a household that spoke Korean, and where many Korean cultural traditions were observed. Hong says that it’s important for her to keep “part of my heritage and culture with me even as I live in a foreign country because it keeps me connected with the people and things I love most.”

Korean, comprised of characters instead of Roman letters, is spoken by upwards of 80 million people. For Hong, “It’s not that hard being bilingual, mostly because Korean and English are so different,” she said. Spending summers back home in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, Hong prefers her native language to English. “It’s a lot easier to voice your opinion more bluntly in Korean,” she says. However, when it comes to speaking her mind in Korean, Hong says she thinks it’s “like I’m using a secret code that no one else knows, which is really nice.”

For Luiza Cocito ’19, moving to the United States five years ago was a turning point for a multitude of reasons, the most prominent being having to learn a new language. Mastering English proved to be an especially challenging task, coming from a Portuguese household.

“I remember every day after school in sixth grade, my mom had to sit down with me for four to five hours so that we could translate what I had learned throughout the school day,” Cocito said. Immersing herself in conversations, along with enrolling in English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes, allowed Cocito to understand the language. Today, she’s a capable English speaker, as she feels “it was much easier to learn English when I was actually was forced to speak it and listen to it.”

Despite the difficulties of learning a second language, Hong and the other bilingual Staples students make a compelling case for learning two languages.