Neo Mokgwathi is a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. As the campus coordinator at Williams, she has big plans for how SLE will enhance cultural awareness for American and international students alike.
Ainsley: Tell us about yourself! What where are you from, what are you majoring in – what’s your story?
Neo: Hi! My name is Neo. I’m from Gaborone, Botswana. I am a Political Science and History double major at Williams, and I am about to graduate in just a couple of months! My background is that I grew up in Botswana but my mother is South African. Actually, both my parents grew up in Johannesburg, and [my mom] lived there until I was 13, so my siblings and I traveled back and forth a lot and didn’t spend more than four months in one place. It was an awesome upbringing between two very different environments. In Gaborone, everyone spoke Setswana or English or Kalanga, but in South Africa with [its] plethora of languages, you really needed to know at least 3 or 4 other than your own to get by, especially in SOWETO (The South Western Townships). I understood languages like Zulu, Afrikaans and Xhosa, but never had to actually speak them since most other people understood Setswana and Sotho, the languages I am fluent in. [In] the future, I hope to go to law school or business school and pursue a career in either human rights law or international development.
A: How did you become interested in bringing SLE to Williams?
The International Club sent out an email about SLE on the listserv encouraging people to apply for the campus coordinator position. After a tough junior year where I had really stretched myself thin being involved in multiple things on campus, I was not really looking to make any major commitments [in] senior year. Still, I was curious, so I went on the SLE website and after reading what the organization is about and their mission, I felt [that] it was something important enough to pursue, and that Williams could really benefit from it.
How do you see SLE fitting into the language learning community at Williams?
I actually see SLE having an impact beyond the language learning community on campus. Williams does so much for international students [but] programs like international orientation tend to focus more on teaching us about American culture to ensure that our transition is smooth. And while there are multiple groups on campus where international students [can] express their cultures, it is mostly around other international students or students with similar backgrounds.
All of these things are beneficial and important, but at the end of the day there needs to be a platform whereby international students can share their cultures with their American peers, rather than just assimilate. And it’s not just international students. There is a group of students on campus doing great things with the teaching of American Sign Language and the culture behind it, and we are excited at the prospect of working with them in the future.
There are so many different peoples and cultures even within the United States that are underrepresented, and [which] are therefore left out of important conversations. I see SLE providing a way in which we can begin to overcome this problem on this campus. And I think that because it isn’t a formal course for credit (and therefore won’t affect the sacred GPA) or as time consuming as regular language courses, it will appeal to students from all fields, not just those interested in languages.
To learn more about the Student Language Exchange program at Williams, click here.