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Caroline, Managing Consultant

Here at the Speaking Center, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with students from all over the world. I love the conversation practice consultations where they continue to develop their understanding of the English language and American cultural expectations. During one particular conversational practice with an international student, I unintentionally brought up a particularly touchy subject. She revealed the immense stress she was under and described the judgement and harassment she experienced as a Muslim from Saudi Arabia with very conservative dress. I was disheartened to hear just how often people steer away from her and her family at all costs. This woman described the intense dread she experiences when thinking about her child of less than a year old growing up in today’s world, a world that will judge them and fear them based on false assumptions and hateful stereotypes. As she continued to talk about the terror her family has experienced while here in the U.S., she began to cry.

 

I wanted so badly to treat the speaker with compassion, but wasn’t sure what I could say or do that wouldn’t overstep cultural or professional boundaries. My personal instinct is to comfort through some sort of physical contact, as that is how I like to be consoled. I knew that wasn’t the right choice. Instead, I reassured her. I told her that by pursuing her education, she would provide better opportunities for her family. She could be the proof against the false labels and stereotypes that have taken root out of fear and lack of understanding.

 

The speaker then shared that she had been feeling extremely homesick for her parents and siblings. This hit a nerve with me, as I hadn’t seen my family in a couple of months. Her cries turned into a sob and she admitted just how desperately she wanted to quit working toward her higher education and return to Saudi Arabia. She shared that she hadn’t felt safe enough to express this until right then. She believed that she must stay strong for her husband and child.

 

I was rendered speechless as she continued to detail the alienation and discrimination she and her husband have been facing. I was humbled by this powerful experience of catharsis. Suddenly, she turned to me, making eye contact for the first time, and told me that I was like her sister. I bore witness to her experiences, gave her the space to be vulnerable; even still, I was the one who felt incredibly moved.

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