I can’t! (¡No puedo!)
Learning English is so difficult! (¡El inglés es muy difícil!)
I give up! I’m not built for this. (Ya no puedo seguir. Esto no es para mí.)
These are some common phrases you hear from many individuals around the world and Bolivia, my home country, is no exception. Learning a language can indeed test your grit. I might have probably told myself the very same phrases back when I was learning English and French, so I am well-aware of all the obstacles and challenges that learning a language could pose to anyone. However, I am also knowledgeable of some of the possible solutions to such a problem, especially thanks to the Master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) I completed on a Fulbright grant almost12 years ago. I heard of the Fulbright Program when I was an undergraduate majoring in Linguistics and Foreign Languages in Bolivia. Little did I know then this experience would have such a tremendous impact on my life. When I learned about Senator William Fulbright and the Fulbright Program, I realized that this program was meant for me to help Bolivians understand that learning English is an attainable goal that can take them further than they could have ever imagined. Senator William Fulbright aimed to build a global community that would promote mutual understanding and empathy among different cultures and this can only be done through language. This is the Fulbright style! To me English is the main means to achieve this courageous goal, but it is also important to promote other languages, especially in this era of conflict and misunderstanding among nations and individuals. This was why I decided to start an online community back in 2018. I created a private Facebook group under the name “GoMultilingualBolivia.” My main goal was to help my students find the motivation to keep going with their learning process because so many quit this endeavor due to lack of motivation. This private group shared information about language and culture through videos, articles, memes, etc. underscoring the importance of learning languages and how this learning can open doors not only to better job opportunities, but also to educational and social growth. Soon, this small Facebook group turned into a bigger project and on October 25th, 2018 the official Facebook Fan Page was available to the public. Since then we have gotten more than 1400 followers. We have also created various video lessons about English pronunciation, vocabulary, and culture which are available on our YouTube channel. Then, one day I realized I was creating a community the way Senator Fulbright would have expected me to do and the best part was that I was doing it with my favorite people in this world: my students, both former and current. “Go Multilingual Bolivia” has been helping more than 1400 members to see the value of learning languages as well as understanding they are a means for mutual understanding. This is how we aim to help members of this community to develop an open mind towards other cultures and today’s world. Our virtual success also motivated us to organize free monthly in-person sessions to practice a variety of languages. This was carried out with the support of EducationUSA in La Paz and Universidad Privada Boliviana, a leading private university here in La Paz, Bolivia, and many volunteers. In 2019, the US Embassy in La Paz awarded GoMultilingualBolivia a certificate of appreciation for our contribution to Bolivian youth’s education.
When the pandemic hit the entire world, GoMultilingualBolivia immediately thought of new approaches to support Bolivian youth’s education, especially because the Bolivian government had decided to cancel the school year. This is how our community started conducting Facebook live interviews with global citizens throughout 2020 and 2021. Our main goal was to help Bolivians learn more about other cultures while they were practicing their English skills. Culture, music, food, lifestyle, education, social and political problems, and languages were discussed in a friendly and fun manner since all interviewees were friends of mine. As a Fulbright grantee, I had the opportunity to make many friends from around the world and these friendships have continued throughout the years. This definitely helped us to carry out this new project. I interviewed 16 global citizens from all over the world including: Russia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Italy, Nigeria, South Korea, the United States, Belgium and many others. Some of the interviewees were also Fulbright grantees, and I feel Senator William Fulbright would have definitely seen this as a great achievement. All interviews have gotten over 6000 views and this number keeps growing as more Bolivians and people from other countries learn about our community. My Fulbright journey continues because I strongly believe it is possible to build a multilingual community that can open Bolivians’ hearts to other cultures and help them realize that learning a language is indeed a feasible goal if you count on a community that supports your dreams and goals.
Monica Flores Rojas – Fulbright to USA 2007-2010