Language assistants come to Hill
Sartoni (left) and Tsay are excited to spend a year at the College.
The move to the Hill can be a challenge at first, but knowing that you have four years here to make friends and to leave a mark on the College are small comforts. But not everyone has that opportunity.
Every year, a group of students arrive on campus not as first-years, but as language assistants for their native languages. They range in ages from 18 to 30, but still participate in COOT, live in residence halls, attend classes and face the struggles of living in a foreign country. Eleonora Sartoni and Tatiana Tsay are two such individuals, spending their year here as language assistants in Italian and Russian, respectively.
Sartoni came to the Hill from Grosseto, Italy. Her decision to travel to the States was based on her desire to travel after she earned her masters degree in December 2010. She said “during [university] I hadn’t had the opportunity to live in a foreign country. I didn’t have the money for the experience and one of my professors had a direct contact at Colby so that’s how I got the position,” she said.
The trip from Italy to Waterville proved a difficult one as Sartoni faced several transportation problems due to Hurricane Irene. “I had to take a bus from Charleston, S.C. to here. It was an interesting 24 hours because I have even seen the difference from the North to the South in the time I’ve been here.” By the time her bus arrived in Waterville, she had missed the first few days of orientation and had to immediately depart for her Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip (COOT).
Tsay’s journey was not easy either. Her trip to the College from St. Petersburg, Russia began with her decision to work for a year as the Russian language assistant. “I graduated from a [college] much like Colby and it has an exchange program with Colby. There was an announcement looking for someone to go, and since I am good at linguistics I figured I’d be able to go,” Tsay said. “I had to work after [University] and I didn’t want to go to a narrow sphere. I wanted a broad experience.” After applying for the position on a whim, Tsay was accepted to the College.
As she prepared to depart for America, however, Hurricane Irene struck. “I had heard about the hurricane, but I didn’t think much of it. It was so far from home, I didn’t realize it was where I had to go,” Tsay said. She had to reschedule four flights, which was hard with so many others trying to do the same. Her eventual path took her from St. Petersburg to Frankfurt, Chicago, Atlanta and finally Portland. After 28 hours of travel and an eight-hour time difference, Tsay finally got to campus. Her midnight arrival meant she only got three hours of sleep before the start of orientation, and was overwhelmed at all the activities that were planned.
“Orientation was all shock,” Tsay said. “There was no real problem with understanding. The problem was just too much information—trying to read everything and depend on maps because you don’t know where to go. People around campus were very helpful and I am so thankful for them because they really helped me a lot. It made a great impression that people were ready to help and smile.”
Both admit that COOT was a new experience. Sartoni, who went on the Upper Richardson Lake canoe trip, enjoyed her trip but realized that overcoming the language barrier would be her first difficult task. “The first day was so hard because I couldn’t understand them—they spoke too fast and used slang I didn’t understand. I was so embarrassed because I could not be involved in conversations and had to have people repeat things,” she said.
Tsay, who had more experience with English, was able to form bonds with the other students on her COOT. “COOT was great,” she said. “We went hiking and camped and slept in tents. We had a fire and sat around it and talked and told funny stories.” She even tried new food, having s’mores for the first time that night. “It was great that we had COOT because this was when I met people,” she said. “I loved my COOT, they were so nice, friendly and patient with my English.”
Tsay also noted that although she is confident in her English abilities, it is not always the case for language assistants here on the Hill. Unlike international students, who have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in English, language assistants have no standards to meet, so some come to the Hill with no experience of the language.
Like many students here, the time spent on campus thus far for both has been different. For Sartoni, one of the hardest parts has been adjusting to student life on campus. “For my age , I am closer to the professors than to the students, but I am a student,” she said. “I’m quite a shy person and I focus on having real relationships with just a few people. It’s hard to organize a social life with work. I feel organized events force people to stay together and repeat the same conversations, and I don’t know how to turn up the conversation.”
Tsay, on the other hand, has embraced the opportunity to be a student once again. “People don’t notice that I’m older , so they are shocked when I tell them; they don’t believe me. Many make the assumption that I’m an international freshman; I feel a little too old to play games and have wild parties every day,” she said. “But classes have been very interesting. I was impressed by how involved professors are and how much students wanted to learn. My students are very cool, exactly the word I would use to describe them—enthusiastic, willing to learn, friendly, a great atmosphere.”
Despite only being two weeks into the school year, both have big plans for the rest of the year—mostly traveling. “I will be here for the whole year, so I would prefer to stay and travel over breaks, especially over JanPlan,” Sartoni said. Tsay agreed, mentioning plans to go to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot to hope for, but with only one year in the States, she is certainly hoping to make the most out of it.