In 2012, I came to the United States from Mexico to pursue my degree in higher education. Learning English and becoming immersed in American culture was a dream.
At first, I thought about becoming a doctor or a teacher. But as I researched more, speech-language pathology, especially the thought of helping kids articulate, really interested me. I wanted to learn more, so I asked family and friends about their experiences with SLPs. After shadowing a couple of SLPs in different settings, I saw how selfless, compassionate, and rewarding this work is. Right then, I knew this profession was for me.
Being a minority, especially in a new country, can come with its challenges—marginalization, cultural adjustments, isolation, and language difficulties among them. It’s intimidating.
I’m a senior CSD student at Brigham Young University, but this past semester, I found myself questioning my decision to become a speech-language pathologist. I truly love what I’m learning, but I’ve had thoughts creep into my head that had me second-guessing myself:
- How can I be a speech-language pathologist if I don’t know the language very well?
- How can I help kids articulate when I struggle with it myself?
- Where do I fit in the medical field when I struggle with academic language?
I asked a couple of my professors if they had colleagues who weren’t from the States originally. I wanted to hear about their experiences and ease these nagging thoughts in my head. But my professors knew very few—maybe one or two—colleagues who were non-native English speakers. Realizing the disparity, one professor told me, “We need people like you!”
This shook me a bit and made me wonder, “What can I give? What do I have that can benefit my future clients?”
Using My Experiences to Help Others
Moving to a new country, adjusting to a different culture, and learning another language has taught me to embrace change, learn to adapt, and love challenges.
When I meet clients and families from different ethnicities, it’s easy for me to connect with them. I see cultural differences and can honestly understand where they’re coming from. If there’s a mismatch between goals and client values, I can work with them and adapt to their beliefs in order to make therapy successful for them. I’m sensitive to understanding when to use clinical language and when to use simple language, so they can understand.
I’ve realized that speaking a different primary language can actually benefit my future clients! While shadowing a speech-language pathologist recently, I had the opportunity to translate for client’s parents. It was rewarding to see the mom comprehending the progress of her child and asking questions she may not have been able to ask before.
Becoming Part of Something Greater
I’ve learned to overcome my insecurities by engaging in my community and speaking up. I joined National NSSLHA and was soon elected to the SLP Student State Officer (SSO) position for Utah. Being a part of something greater has given me the confidence to continue in my program.
As an SSO, I’ve learned that leadership is about inspiring others and showing them what they’re capable of. I can do the same with my future clients. By sharing my story, I can relate on a personal level and let them know that their challenges—no matter what they are or what they’re caused by—don’t define who they are. They’ll know they’re not alone and I’ll help them to not only find ways to communicate, but to feel confident and valid. I can bring them hope. I can empower them.
Embracing My Differences
Growing up, I struggled to learn a second language and took literacy for granted. As a future SLP, my focus is on bilingualism and early literacy. My dream is to empower and support kids learning two languages simultaneously, encouraging the importance of early literacy in both languages.
Being a minority in the professions may come with its challenges, but we have to take advantage of our uniqueness. We need to use our experiences to give our future clients hope, understanding, and a sense of belonging. It’ll only make us better professionals!
It wasn’t easy, but I’ve finally figured out why I should be confident in becoming a speech-language pathologist. My hope is to bring more diversity to our fields because, “We need people like you!”