We are in a big world with hundreds of countries and languages, let’s use this to broaden our knowledge of the universe.

There are over 190 countries in the world and 6,500 languages spoken today. 

We have deserts to snowy mountains, stretching landscapes to the tallest buildings and tropical islands to green forests. We should celebrate the diversity of our world and enjoy the many benefits it gives to us and our health, from its fruit to the oxygen we breathe. 

How many countries do I know of? This is a question we should ask ourselves. Open up a map and try to pin all of the countries you know. If you have never been out of the United States, there are so many beautiful places in the world to explore. 

There are also many ways to go to these places. One would be to study abroad. As a UW Tacoma student, you are able to apply for a study abroad program through any of the UW campuses, we have a study abroad website with many resources regarding the programs — such as how to apply to the programs as well as how to financially assist your trip. If you’re from another campus, utilize your school’s study abroad website to see which countries and programs it has, how to be eligible for it and ways it can be financially assisted! 

If you’ve ever learned a language in high school or college, then you may have been able to experience the culture of that language through your classes. There are many languages being offered at college and university. And at our UW campuses specifically, such as Russian, Arabic, Turkish, German, Greek, Persian and Swedish. 

Learning a new language helps you connect with people who also speak that language, and in this way it can be so beneficial for your work life as well as your personal. For instance, if you are in the medical field, you can speak with patients who speak one language and may not know another. If you are in law, you can speak with other countries’ representatives on international affairs. 

Learning a new language while we have the motivation to do so is so important to take action on. We may have classes, work and other priorities that make it hard to find the time. But utilizing language apps — such as Duolingo or Drops — for five, 10 or 15 minutes a day can make a big difference. Also, finding someone or even a group who wants to learn the same language is great motivation too! 

I have two identities. I’m Turkish American and celebrate the diversity in my DNA and culture. I speak Turkish at home, and English when I’m out. Sometimes when I’m out in the market or elsewhere, I stumble upon people speaking Turkish and get excited to connect with them, showing I speak Turkish as well. 

When I went to Mexico for the first time, it was a different experience for me. It was so beautiful but I didn’t know the language, so I was unable to speak with locals. The food, textiles and architecture were all things I enjoyed learning and experiencing while I was there, as it increased my knowledge of the culture. The hospitality and the positivity of the area we visited was very welcoming. I felt close and warm towards Mexican culture especially after this trip.

Being able to connect with others through culture is one aspect, another is language. Knowing Turkish fluently, it is similar to Turkic languages such as Azeri and Uyghur, so I am able to bond with people who speak these languages. 

Improving our own language as well as learning conversational words and sentences in other languages is so important. When I want to connect with an elder or someone who does not know English well, I feel a bit down as I don’t know that language but want to show respect and would like to have a conversation. In my Turkish culture, respecting our elders is a very significant aspect because it shows the value our elders hold.

Learning new languages and going to different countries opens up so many new doors. 

By learning a new language, the person who benefits most is yourself, because you open different opportunities. When visiting a different country, your viewpoint and mindset of the world will change, because the way that many countries are portrayed on the news is not even close to how they are in real life. When I first visited Russia, it was a lot different from what I had learned before visiting. The experience I had will stick with me forever, as I discovered a new part of the world. 

After visiting one or multiple countries, you will have that experience for the rest of your life and engage in so many different dialogues with people concerning politics, culture, food, architecture, and more because you will be able to share that experience and knowledge you have from traveling. When you learn a new language, it will go with you everywhere. You will start recognizing that language on billboards, in stores, in books, in shows and in people’s conversations.

It’s 2021, we are still at the start. Make a goal for yourself. What’s a country and language that always sparked your curiosity? What’s a language and country that you felt hesitant towards? Take this opportunity to learn it, the resources for learning that language is out there, find it, learn it, use it.

While we are in a pandemic, a great way to utilize this time is to choose a language we always wanted to learn or that we think is hard, and set a goal to learn it. By the time the pandemic is hopefully over, you may have the opportunity to visit the country that language is prominently used. 

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