Writing scholarship winner

LIVING Language: Cultural Immersion Cultivates Human Connection

Written by Samantha L.

Samantha's winning essay for the Bob & Edie Green Writing Scholarship offers a glimpse into her linguistic odyssey, highlighting the intersection of language and culture. From virtual connections on Tandem to the anticipation of a French homestay, Samantha emphasizes the transformative power of language immersion. Join her on this enriching adventure, fostering connections that transcend borders.

“Donna, isn’t that your grandma’s name?”

“Yeah, why?” my cousin asked.

“Apparently it means woman in Italian,” I said, grinning, and continuing my lesson. New alphabets, intriguing sounds, jumbled words that fit into puzzle-like sentences—the gamified approach Duolingo took to language acquisition left me stupefied and eager for more ever since my fifth-grade days of sitting at the kitchen counter with an i-Pad and notebook by my side. Formulaic, yet abstract and ever-evolving, the structural components of language drew me to linguistics; the study of language acting as a kaleidoscopic lens of the creativity of the human mind, exposing its captivating capabilities. Though studying all of the technical aspects certainly is interesting, my favorite area of linguistics has always been sociolinguistics: the study of language in relation to society.

Different cultures, vast eras of time, intricate structural variation—despite the elements of language that create distinction, they are all rooted in one thing: the human experience. Languages are precious outlets to express thoughts, desires, and emotions that to their cores are universal to the human race. Language bonds us through shared experiences and ideas, all while preserving the culture and identity of the community from which it is derived. Through the telling of beliefs and traditions, hopes and dreams, and the minutiae of everyday life, language and culture are inextricably intertwined; a concept beautifully described by Agar (1994) with the idea of languaculture. When I study French, I not only learn a new “code” that allows me to speak with others, but I expose myself to the rich cultures that are the foundations of the very vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical constructions that I study. It is more than learning a lingua franca to use in a professional setting— more than listening to “Papaoutai” by Stromae to study in a more engaging way, but is reading Un Papillon Dans La Cité by Gisèle Pineau to understand life in the Francophone countries and the social challenges faced by many, or reading French news articles to broaden my knowledge of the political events that shape the future my generation is to inherit. Language is real. Language is human.

Our emotions are most intimately connected to our mother tongue. As such, learning another language allows us to connect with people on a much deeper level. When I am able to communicate with people in their native language, I feel an inexplicable joy in this connection; a sense of solace and validation through interaction with another person who I never would have been able to get to know otherwise.

I often find myself on Tandem, a language exchange app where people can practice conversation with native speakers, talking to kids my age from countries such as France, Switzerland, and Côte d’Ivoire. When I first put myself out there, it was nerve-racking to speak on a virtual call. Was my accent off? Did I mess up that conjugation? Am I speaking too slowly? Intimidated, it took me a few conversations to leave these thoughts behind. Soon enough I found myself rambling, laughing, and chatting for hours on end, my growing proficiency in French allowing me to befriend some of the most amazing people in my life. Hearing all of the excitement and woes of the teenage experience from someone shaped by a different culture has given me a much more nuanced perspective on the world. We are so distinct, yet we are so similar. I am forever glad to have built up the confidence to put myself out there—to be vulnerable, unafraid of making mistakes—as I have found my life all the richer, immersing myself deeper into the French language and culture with every conversation.

This year, in spring of 2024, I will be going to France and participating in a home-stay with a French family. It is one thing to immerse myself in language and culture online, but to physically eat, sleep, and breathe French for 10 days, will strengthen these connections on an entirely new level. The face-to-face interaction, observation of body language and gesticulation, being surrounded by the language I am studying by hearing a conversation in passing on the street or reading a road sign, will not only build confidence in my language skills, but cultivate an authentic sense of culture through living it. To understand a language is one thing, but to truly know a language is to embed yourself within its culture: something which yields some of the richest connections in your life.


In celebration of Samantha's exceptional talent in expressing the profound significance of language and its role in shaping identities, we are delighted to announce her as a recipient of the Bob & Edie Green Writing Scholarship. Samantha, thank you for generously sharing your transformative journey of self-discovery through language and culture. Your narrative beautifully underscores the profound impact of language and cultural immersion, aligning seamlessly with Xperitas' overarching mission—to cultivate connections, understanding, and a sense of belonging through enriching language and cultural experiences. Congratulations, Samantha, on this well-deserved recognition, and gratitude for inspiring us with your enlightening journey. May your story resonate widely, inspiring others to embark on their own adventures of linguistic and cultural exploration.