Tangut Degfay – My Never-Ending Journey to Learning People (Amharic, English, Japanese, Korean)

All Student Stories, International Policy and Development

Story written by Tangut Degfey, IPD, ’18

for-profile-pic-visiting-nikko-historical-city-in-tochigi-perfecture-japanMy language journey started when I began studying Japanese at Middlebury College. Growing up, I was interested in the East Asian region, particularly the
technology that came from there. We had a TV, a refrigerator, a radio and other electronics equipments that were imported from one or more East Asian countries and the more I saw the names of the countries on those equipments, the more I grew passionate about learning about the culture and geography.
As I grew up and started paying attention to the entertainment industry, particularly of South Korea, I was even more fascinated by many similarities with my own culture, such as the importance ofperforming-japanese-traditional-dance-at-middlebury-college family values, respecting the elders and working hard on your academics, and that got me even more curious about the region. Middlebury didn’t have a Korean program when I started my degree program so I chose to study Japanese instead.

Learning Japanese has given me a new identity and a sense of belonging to the culture. During my third year of college, I did a one year study abroad in Tokyo, where I when-my-dorm-mates-celebrated-my-birthday-tokyo-2014lived with Japanese students in a dorm and was able to make friends. I had a wonderful year! When I arrived at my dorm, I was welcomed by other dorm residents waiting for me at the gate. When I first introducing myself in Japanese, none of the students were able to pick up my name. After few failed attempts, one of my dorm-mates asked if she could call me “Tantan” instead, and from that moment on, I became Tantan. I am still Tantan. Being given that nickname illustrates the quick-friendships, warmth and other great memories I experienced while in Tokyo To this day, every time someone calls me Tantan, I find myself back in Tokyo. Knowing the language helps me understand the culture and the people better. at-a-dance-practice-student-club-tokyo-2014When you know the language, it starts to feel like you understand how people process thoughts even if you are not communicating verbally.  And that has given me a sense of belonging to the Japanese culture.

One of the times my Japanese skills came alive was when I started learning my fourth language, Korean. While in Tokyo, I enrolled in a short-term beginners Korean seminar, taught entirely innormal-grocery-shopping-in-tokyo Japanese. It helped solidify my understanding of Japanese because I was using the language differently.  Language learning is not easy, it can be very exhaustive and time consuming. I have never failed any academic exam in my life but I have failed my Japanese exams twice, as embarrassing as that sounds! Yet, I am still continuing that journey and keeping up with my language studies even in my masters program, and that just makes me so proud about myself. It is a never ending journey unless of course, you decide to quit. There are times I almost quit, but I am still here, still learning.