Building Community in More Ways than One

Hello SLE community! My name is Tamsin Chen, and I’m a senior at Vassar College studying International Studies and Economics.

I feel very lucky to have had a life thus far filled with travel and multicultural experiences. I was born in Australia to Malaysian-Chinese parents, into a home where Cantonese, Hakka, English, Hainanese, Bahasa Melayu, and the occasional indelicate Hokkien slang word would come dancing together in our very own rojak (colorful Southeast Asian fruit-and-veg salad) of languages.
I grew up in Singapore before moving to the U.S. for college. In Singapore, I attended an international school with students from all over the world (a whopping 73 countries!) and was constantly surrounded by different languages.
Vassar has nurtured my childhood curiosities about internationalism, and has honed them into deeper inquiries about global inequality and international development. During the school year, I lead programme management for the Vassar Haiti Project, a non-profit organisation run by our leadership partners in Haiti, volunteers from the Vassar community, and members of Chermaitre, a rural village in Northwest Haiti.
About three years ago, I started learning Haitian Creole with other Vassar Haiti Project members. Two visits to Chermaitre and one summer internship in Northern Haiti later, I’m making a tiny bit of progress with Creole, but my proficiency is no where near the level it ought to be! I cannot overstate how important I think speaking the local language is in building mutual trust and understanding in development initiatives.
Yes, I could more easily find the resources to learn French, the other official language of Haiti… but just 5-10% of the Haitian population is bilingual in French and Creole, while 90-95% speak Creole exclusively!
SLE hits home for me because it recognizes the significance of languages like Haitian Creole. It brings to the fore my inherited and now forgotten Chinese dialects of Cantonese, Hakka, and Hainanese. I’m thrilled and grateful to be joining the SLE community – to be part of a democratic language movement.

CHEN TAMSIN Intern PhotoTamsin is a senior at Vassar College, double-majoring in International Studies and Economics, with keen interests in international development, sustainable development, and social innovation. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, chasing vegetarian food trucks, and singing with her beloved a cappella group.