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Jenny, Graduate Consultant

During my time in the UNCG Speaking Center, I have had many excellent experiences and opportunities. None more so than when working with diverse and interesting speakers in consultations. All speakers are important and leave a mark in some way even if it is just to add to my repertoire of experience and knowledge. However, there have been a small few that I can say really changed me. One speaker in particular will always stick with me…I might even call her my favorite.

This speaker was a student in the Interlink USA program on campus and I worked with her numerous times. It was in the summer and this is a time that is mostly spent in conversation with English Language Learning students helping them practice their English conversation skills. This particular speaker was from Saudi Arabia and she came to the Center nearly every day. She was very eager to learn and from the very first time I worked with her I knew that she was very special. As a matter of fact she seemed to have that same effect on all the consultants working that summer session. We would “fight” over who would work with her each day. Her eagerness coupled with her open and winning personality was endearing. Before working in the Speaking Center I had never actually spoken to someone of the Muslim faith…at least not that I knew of. Like many people I had only vague understanding of the culture. I consider myself open minded, but with anything unknown there is a tendency to think of it in terms of “otherness.” This Speaker was certainly not the first or only student I worked with that practiced the Muslim faith, but she absolutely taught me more than any other. She dressed in traditional Muslim garb, including a hijab and a niqab. If you aren’t familiar with those terms (as I wasn’t before I met her), they resemble a head scarf and veil. At first, it was very unsettling. I felt that this would be a barrier to our communication. Oh how wrong I was! She was so easy to converse with. Obviously she was very new to the language, but she freely asked questions and never let the conversation lag. I never had to struggle to think of a topic as I did with some other speakers. One of the funniest questions she asked me was why American women left hair on their arms. I had never really thought of that before.

After a few sessions with her, we were firm conversation friends! She really opened up and began to share more about herself and the things that she longed to be able to express adequately in a language much different from her own. I found out that she was a new bride and had only been married a few weeks before she came to America to study English with her new husband. She was homesick and missed her mother. She had lost weight from worry and from the heavy studying she was doing in her eagerness to succeed. She talked about how she loved to cook and her eyes would light up when she would explain the recipes. I knew that she felt very comfortable with me. It wasn’t just that she was talking so openly and freely that let me know this. One day behind the closed door of the consultation room, she removed her niqab (veil) from her face. She was just as beautiful as I had imagined her to be from her easy way of speaking and lovely laugh and dancing eyes. It was at this moment that I realized the relationship that we had was everything that a consultant can hope for. She trusted me!

The “otherness” had fallen away and all I saw was a young woman with many layers and issues and questions, just like me. She made me very aware of how I had been unconsciously othering people that were different from me. After her, I embraced the opportunities to learn about each unique individual that I had the good fortune to come into contact with. I ran into this speaker a year later and her transformation was shining all over her. She was so confident! She was excited to tell me that she had completed the Interlink program and was about to have an addition to her little family. My heart was so full of gladness for her! I will always remember this speaker and how she touched my life. If it had not been for the Speaking Center I wouldn’t have this story to tell and that would be a very sad thing indeed.

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