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  • Transcriber: Emi Kamiya Reviewer: David DeRuwe

  • Do you know of any children

  • who can speak English and another language fluently?

  • These children may have moved with their families

  • from or to another country.

  • Or their parents may be an international couple.

  • These children grow up with exposure to multiple languages and cultures

  • at the same time.

  • And while this kind of childhood is getting very common,

  • if you actually ask one of these children,

  • "Hey, are you enjoying the experience?"

  • he or she might tell you,

  • "No, it's actually very tough, and I'm struggling.

  • And my parents are struggling with me."

  • Twenty years ago, I was one of these children,

  • and as I was being back and forth between the United States and Japan,

  • I have to tell you that, back then, I hated my life.

  • Each move was traumatizing,

  • and I fell way, way behind academically.

  • But today, now that I'm an adult,

  • the same experiences have become a gift that helps me in many ways.

  • So, what is it that makes an international childhood so hard?

  • My family gave me their full support throughout the journey,

  • and I was very lucky to have them.

  • But now that I reflect on it,

  • I kind of think that it was way too hard

  • for all of us.

  • So, as soon as I got to Harvard Business School

  • as a Fulbright scholar,

  • I started working on an idea that later became my startup.

  • It's an educational service that supports international children

  • through their unique challenges, both academic and psychological.

  • So what is it that makes an international childhood so hard,

  • but later, rewarding?

  • The first thing is language.

  • Do you know how they say that,

  • "Oh, young children, they can pick up a language so quickly.

  • He or she will be speaking in no time."

  • You've heard that before?

  • Yeah, so that's true if the question is:

  • "Can they communicate in that language?"

  • But if the question is:

  • "Can they think and learn in that language?"

  • the answer is that it actually takes a lot longer.

  • Research tells us that it can take five to seven years for a person

  • to reach this level of proficiency.

  • Now, one of our students,

  • he's been in an English environment for six years.

  • His English is so fluent,

  • you won't believe this is not his native tongue.

  • And he has straight A's in all of his English subjects.

  • But when it comes to math and physics,

  • he still prefers that we teach him in Japanese.

  • According to him, "Oh, it's just faster that way.

  • You know, it's easier to learn these, like, hard conceptual ideas.

  • They're easier to manipulate in my head

  • when they are in Japanese."

  • So, in short, it's easier to think.

  • So if you are a child learning in a language

  • that you are not completely comfortable with yet,

  • that can limit your cognition, your ability to learn.

  • So, for any multilingual student growing up,

  • it's essential that they catch up with the school language

  • as fast as possible

  • so that they can learn what they should be learning

  • at that grade level.

  • Meantime, they also need to maintain their native tongue at the grade level,

  • and that is very hard.

  • It's not something that just happens on its own either.

  • It requires commitment and planning and investment,

  • not just from the child, but also from the family.

  • A child going through this stage needs help, deserves help.

  • And it's either the family provides it,

  • or professionals can help them provide it.

  • And I remember

  • that going through the stage, it was very confusing.

  • It almost felt as if that it was a personal problem.

  • Like, "Maybe I'm not smart enough

  • because I'm spending so much time working,

  • but I'm not good enough in either."

  • Language barriers can also be very hard

  • on a child's social life at school as well.

  • Do you ever feel like there are aspects of your personality

  • that you can't really fully express in your second language?

  • You know, maybe you can't be as funny,

  • or seem as intelligent,

  • or be as interesting as you really are

  • because language limits you.

  • Now, imagine you are a teenager, and you need to do that five days a week.

  • Yikes!

  • So, learning a language is a long and hard journey.

  • The gift, of course, is access.

  • Once you've mastered two languages,

  • you can go to school or work in two different countries.

  • You can access information and knowledge created in two languages.

  • And you can build relationships with two very different groups of people.

  • There's so much richness in the bilingual world.

  • It's almost like you're living two lives at the same time.

  • The second challenge is culture.

  • So one day, a little girl in Michigan walks into her classroom in the morning,

  • and her teacher welcomes her with a big warm hug,

  • just like any other morning.

  • The next week, she moves to Japan,

  • where hugging is not really a thing,

  • and we express affection through different means.

  • After one big, awkward social attempt,

  • she notices that you can't really hug people in Japan

  • without making them feel completely uncomfortable

  • and also winning the title of "complete social weirdo."

  • (Laughter)

  • So she stops hugging people,

  • but knowing isn't feeling.

  • She still wants to hug people, and she misses it.

  • But she knows that she needs to follow the cultural norm

  • in order to be accepted as a decent member of the community,

  • and failure to do so would mean that she would be the outcast

  • who can't follow the rules.

  • And because culture is not just about the foods we eat

  • and the holidays we celebrate,

  • but it's this all-encompassing thought process

  • that highlights different aspects of the world

  • and attributes different meaning to these aspects

  • and hence creates completely different experiences

  • from the same world,

  • this kind of difference can exist in anything and everything

  • from, let's say, how to be popular at school

  • to how to sound credible at a job interview,

  • all the way up to how to tell somebody that you like them

  • and how you determine the relationship after a couple of dates with your crush.

  • And because there is no convenient textbook for all these cultural norms,

  • you basically need to learn through trying and making

  • lots and lots of embarrassing mistakes.

  • The pain is worsened

  • because you start to take it personally.

  • You start to think, at one point,

  • "Hey, oh, I need to watch out for my behavior.

  • I need to constantly check if I'm not being weird,"

  • just to be accepted.

  • The gift in being brought up in two cultures

  • is this revelation that cultural norms

  • are a social construct.

  • You know, people can believe in wildly different things

  • based on where they were born or how they were brought up.

  • And what seems to be common sense or even the truth in one culture

  • may not be that way somewhere else.

  • And although each culture is this complete, beautiful,

  • and functional and different approach to life,

  • none of them is universal truth.

  • Knowing this can give you two freedoms.

  • The first freedom is to choose which rules you want to follow

  • at important junctions of your life.

  • My choice to go to Harvard Business School

  • and become a female entrepreneur

  • does not necessarily fit the typical female gender role in Japan.

  • But I can choose to feel feminine if I want to

  • because I know that femininity can mean different things

  • in different places.

  • The second freedom is awareness.

  • The tricky thing about culture is that when you are part of a culture,

  • it's very hard to be aware of it.

  • You know, they say

  • that it's the air we breathe and the water we swim in,

  • but once you are fully immersed in two or more cultures,

  • the contrast suddenly makes it easier for you

  • to become aware of how they are influencing you.

  • And if you are more aware

  • of the cultural biases and the stereotypes we have,

  • that makes you so much better

  • at connecting with somebody from a different culture.

  • You know, in today's world of divide and borders,

  • we need more people who are good at this.

  • The final component is identity.

  • An American girl, who had been living in Shanghai for eight years,

  • moves back to DC.

  • And her new friends there jokingly tell her,

  • "Ah, go back to China where you came from."

  • That day, later on, she told me,

  • "Well, I don't belong there either, you know?

  • It looks like I don't belong anywhere now."

  • And this sense of being uprooted and rootless can really eat away at you.

  • I admit that, even to this day,

  • I sometimes struggle with the question:

  • "Wait, who am I really, and where do I belong?"

  • because I feel a deep connection with Japan,

  • and I feel a deep connection with the US,

  • but I don't fully belong in either.

  • I'm a mixture.

  • And being that makes me a minority in Japan, where I am from.

  • And that can be very hard, especially for a child

  • because you want to be able to clearly define who you are

  • and have this safe place in the world where you can just be yourself,

  • and be accepted,

  • and not have to try so hard all the time.

  • The gift in all this confusion

  • is that the confusion is actually an open invitation

  • for us to find a time and place where we can feel belonging.

  • To define what are the meaningful relationships

  • that help you belong in a space,

  • what is it that we can do

  • to give our rather complicated lives purpose and meaning?

  • Sometimes, all it takes for you to feel like "Ah, I belong here"

  • is a couple of really close friends,

  • friends that just get you, you know, both sides of you.

  • Sometimes, it's a mission or a vision you want to pursue.

  • It's something that you want to give back to that environment

  • that connects you to that place.

  • And because concepts like identity and nationality

  • are actually a lot not as concrete and as definite as you would think,

  • there is space for reinterpretation.

  • There is plasticity

  • for you to recreate a sense of belonging that you could have once lost.

  • So the invitation in this identity crisis

  • is an invitation to choose who you want to be

  • and what you want to make out of your life.

  • So if there are any of these international children around you,

  • I ask you today, please be kind to them.

  • Just because they can't speak intelligently yet,

  • don't assume they're not intelligent.

  • Please try not to judge them,

  • to see them through stereotypes, to tokenize them.

  • Instead, please help me encourage them,

  • to tell them to hang in there,

  • to aim higher.

  • And join me in embracing these children

  • and celebrating the potential they have

  • and bringing us so much closer together.

  • And if you are one of these children, today, oh my God, I have to tell you

  • that you are doing something that's extremely hard for anyone.

  • You are not alone.

  • You deserve help.

  • And if you want it, don't be shy to ask for it.

  • The world is counting on you to make it through.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Transcriber: Emi Kamiya Reviewer: David DeRuwe

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    Takaaki Inoue 發佈於 2021 年 01 月 14 日