A reflection by Yusef Bushara (YR 45/2020, Bermuda)
(Editor’s Note: Recently, Faculty member Becky Halvorson’s first year English A students completed an assignment reflecting on their first two months at Pearson on the topic of language and identity. Many interesting pieces were submitted – too many for us to publish, in fact! – but we wanted to share at least one “representative” observation from a student who kindly agreed to share his thoughts.)
Sixty-two. This number, while seemingly insignificant, marks the beginning of a commitment – 62 days since my arrival at Pearson. The terms of this agreement are forever evolving–taking a new shape upon every encountering. Like a sponge, when I speak to people at Pearson, I absorb every ounce of experience.
Inside this bubble, we all sip from a glass half-full. Optimism radiating from each and every beautiful face on this campus. We perceive the world in an artificial light, resulting in an understanding of reality which is often distorted. However, it’s because of the sheer spirit of idealism shared at this school, that we’re able to chase the future we wish to build.
The relationships which we forge here at Pearson; the relationships founded on the exploration of culture, and notably, the exchange of language, are bonds which will hold strong for as long as we so desire.
The day of arrival is ingrained into my memory: the feeling of anticipation comparable to the night of Christmas Eve. I can recollect feeling as though my stomach was completing a perpetual ‘Quick Wash’ cycle–somebody always there to send my crippling feeling of doubt for a continuous loop.
As my mother departed, she made sure to leave me with a keepsake: a temporary imprint of ‘Laura Mercier’s Summer Smooth Lip Color.’ In addition to her stamp of embarrassment, the last word she left with me was “represent.” In my family, this word carries weight. This word is sanctified. Every morning before getting out of the car to attend school, my mother, in a solemn way, would say this word to me. Never with an explanation, “represent” was, and remains to my sisters and I, our family mantra. Not simply a word to bear in mind as I passively go through my life at Pearson, but instead, an action that I must invoke in every waking second.
During my brief time here at Pearson, a place that I’m beginning to call “home,” there have been several occasions where I have felt the impact of language use. Whether this be through the recognition of my own language privilege, or by experimenting with the native tongue of a close friend, I’ve realized that the sharing of language makes for a unified community here in Pedder Bay. I’ve begun to understand and internalize the fact that language, in the context of my Pearson experience, paints the background on the delicate canvas of my identity.
Though some words may find themselves getting trapped in the net of translation, the ones which do seep through provide the foundation for all of our interactions. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to develop a sensitivity: a sensitivity toward languages, cultures, and ideas. It’s through this refined comprehension that I hope to build a more wholesome understanding of self.
Being fully immersed in a multilingual and multicultural environment has presented me with a set of obstacles that I didn’t anticipate having to hurdle over prior to my arrival.
While the “UWC spirit” in me feels so compelled as to describe the experience as one which is constantly enriching and insightful–I would be lying if I didn’t admit the extent to which it drains me. We, as a school community, are obligated to cultivate an environment where students, residents, and faculty can freely and unapologetically plant the seeds of their identity in a fertile campus soil. We do this, primarily, by attempting to preserve two characteristics which help to define us: language and culture.
We are an eclectic bunch. Every single person with a story that could fill the pages of any great novel. However, here, we collectively write a new story–our story. A story which encapsulates the fleeting moments which we collect during our two-year stint.
This novel of experience, though profound, is written in many different tongues. Meticulously crafted, this novel is undergoing an eternal editing process–being retouched and altered by all who walk these grounds. Here [on these grounds], we’ve simulated the demographics of a global society: we have ambassadors who represent nearly every country conceivable. The social makeup of our community, by consequence, demonstrates nuances unlike any other.
Languages on this campus are almost as commonplace as trees in a forest. Never one which resembles, or in this case, sounds the exact same. Dialects so complicated they can’t be scribed, I often lose myself in the rich dialogue that permeates the thin wooden walls on campus. It’s language, and it’s through broken conversation that we build our identity. Language is the medium through which we perceive and learn about those around us.
It wasn’t but a few weeks ago when I’d wandered into the cafeteria on what was another unproductive night. I was tired, hungry (as per usual), and not in the headspace for conversation. Regardless, I found myself engaged in a discussion within about 45 seconds. I was sitting and speaking with somebody from France and another from Syria.
It was there, in that moment, that I was awoken to a new reality. I watched them as they spoke with the very distinguishable undertones of their mother tongue. I listened. I listened. I listened, and in that very moment–everything stopped. The fusion of language, culture, and past experience all concentrated into that moment. A moment which marked the commencement of my journey.
Sixty-two days. And many more ahead.