Story written by Tangut Degfey, IPD, ’18
My 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 of 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 lived 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. When 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 in 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.