Celebrating Freedoms Big and Small: Intercambio Intern Reflects on Learning English

Amy and her mother.

Amy, a student at Wellesley College, interned with Intercambio through the month of January interviewing students and learning their stories. Meeting and speaking with Intercambio students reminded her of her own experience learning English, and she was inspired to write this post.

As a remote student intern, I had the opportunity to interview members of the Intercambio family.

Though the distance is great between Colorado and Washington state, I felt connected to the kind people that shared their life stories with me because I was also an English learner. My mother immigrated to the US and gave birth to me in Seattle. At the age of two, I was sent to Beijing, China to live with my grandparents. At eight, I returned to Seattle to face a culture and language that was familiar yet foreign.

I recall a time when I was proficient with English and was translating a phone call from the housing-assistance program for my mom. I made a misinterpretation that almost cost us our eligibility. Luckily, I realized my mistake early and was able to call back immediately to fix it.

I also remembered the exciting moments that marked progress like when I opened the letter that told me I passed my ESL exam or when I wrote my first essay in English.

For me, the best part about this internship was celebrating the freedoms big and small that came with acquiring the language. These hard-fought freedoms included expressing oneself more freely in social situations, getting a library card, a driver’s license, running one’s own business, going to the grocery store alone, travelling the US, as well as navigating the healthcare system.

I can connect with the importance of getting my own library card especially. Gaining access to endless books and DVDs helped me set the course for my own language learning. However, while I was able to focus on learning English full-time, the people I spoke to had to do so while balancing jobs and family.

Their stories will always be a source of inspiration in my heart.