…because there’s nothing else to do in North Dakota

This is how I end a lot of stories about my time at SIL, partly jokingly. Being without a vehicle on an empty campus in the middle of nowhere certainly leads to a lot of creative methods of having fun. I’d like to share with you some of the things I did outside of class this summer to show you how SIL students aren’t afraid to think outside of the box and that even nerds have a high capacity for creative slacking.

Push-up Club

Yes, you heard right. Every night at 9:15pm, anywhere from 5-30 people would drop what they were doing, come to the lounge on my floor, drop to the floor, and give it their all for the entirety of an inspirational song. Eye of the Tiger, Final Countdown, Chariots of Fire, and other classics boomed through the hall, interrupting the homework of many, while our unofficial club pumped our pectorals and crunched our numbers. My friend Janelle, I believe, was the one to start the push-up club, or at least to make it into what it soon became. We started adding our numbers together and came up with group goals. She’d shout, “Everyone do FIVE MORE and we’ll make it to a thousand tonight!” Lessons learned: physical activity is good for the brain, team goals enhance community bonds, and it’s all in the music.

Poetry Nights

On Thursday nights, Graham and Sarah (the cutest, young, hip, married, linguist couple) started a poetry reading club. People would come with books, computers, or smart phones and sit in a circle and read our favorite poems. Silly ones and serious ones, and even some of our own work. Eventually, this night morphed into a poetry writing session as well. We were all dying for a creative outlet and as linguists we delight in the power of words. So once again, someone would set a soundtrack, (this time something a bit more soothing), and for the length of the song, we would write. To switch things up a bit, we took on the challenge of writing a poem to fit a poem title written by someone else. My friend Doug wrote about our process, compiled our poems, and published the work, titled Poems from a Bucket, so you can read all about it for yourself (and you can read our poems!). Check it out.

Swing Dance Club

My friend Becca and I actually started this one ourselves. On Saturdays we taught some basic Swing and danced for about an hour. I had the privilege of dancing with the program director, Dr. Bickford, and had the amazing experience of dancing with a girl named Shay. She’s deaf and she’s from Burma. So she speaks Myanmar Sign Language and I had previously had no real interaction with her other than a smile on the elevator. Several SIL students and faculty know some ASL and a handful were also learning Myanmar Sign from her, but I was at a total loss. But the one thing we had in common was the love of dance. I had to come up with ways to explain things visually, which was challenging but so exciting. And it sure helped that Swing is a partner dance, because she was able to feel the unique rhythm of Swing without being able to hear the 3/3 time of the music—and she had a better sense of rhythm than a lot of hearing people I’ve tried to dance with before. Shay also taught me some Burmese traditional dances and it just so cool being able to connect and share our cultures and have fun without being able to speak each other’s languages.

Volleybal Tournament

As a non-competitive, non-athletic individual, I did not take part in this particular activity, but I did sit on the sidelines and cheer on my friends, enjoying the golden hour outdoors and the company of the other spectators. All ages played in this very serious but very friendly competition of seven teams (they were named after the seven dwarves) with a game or two almost every night of the week.

Skit Nights

There were three of these throughout the summer. The first was hosted by returning students, the second by first year students, and the third by the staff and faculty. When our turn to host came around, I was right in my element. We put together a team of organizers and actors and writers and stage hands and techies and basically put on a full production in the form of an awards show. The full recording is below, but as a warning, it’s full of linguistics references and SIL inside jokes, so while it will give you a good idea of the night and a taste of the community, you won’t think it’s funny.

Work Assignments

To keep the cost of the program low, every student is assigned to some sort of job helping out with childcare, cleaning the building, security, etc. I cleaned the childcare area with the same team of people every night of the week and it was a great excuse to take a break from intellectual work and bond with people.

Campus and Downtown

The campus of UND is big and beautiful and there are plenty of places to study and hang and get coffee; there’s a playground and a park. We had a program cook-out with food and games. Grand Forks is on the river-border to Minnesota. On the fourth of July we sat by the river and watched fireworks and on my friend’s 21st birthday, we put together a scavenger hunt with stations and clues both on campus and downtown Grand Forks. One weekend, three of my girl friends made the three-hour drive to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada and enjoyed a farmer’s market, thai food, and the incredible friendliness of Canadians. Grand forks also has farmer’s markets on Saturdays, good pizza, and cute coffee-shops.

…And when there’s nothing else to do, you can always run outside in the rain, go for a joy ride on the long, straight, empty roads, write letters or make phone calls, take a nap in a hammock, go out gazing at shooting stars and Northern lights, or you know, watch Netflix.

Why I Spent Last Summer in North Dakota

It’s been five months since I was there–in Grand Forks, North Dakota, studying linguistics. Just how every college student wants to spend their summer, right? Part of me hated the idea of taking more classes through the summer and spending more money instead of making some. But I had a dream; I still do. And that’s why in another five months, I’m going back and doing it again.

SIL is a faith-based, non-governmental organization that works in language research, development, preservation, translation, and training worldwide. Their training is what I was interested in. The acronym stands for Summer Institute of Linguistics. It was this program that took me all the way to North Dakota last summer where, for two months, I practiced learner-directed methods of second language acquisition, pronouncing and transcribing the phonetic alphabet, analyzing the syntax and morphology of foreign languages from sets of data, and using  digital media to collect quality recordings. I also learned about writing systems and the sociological implications of their development and reform. In other words, I finally got to take classes that had real-world implications and applications. I took 10 credits’ worth of linguistics classes in 9 weeks and I’d do it again.

So what exactly brought me there? I’ve always been fascinated by language and how it works. Languages are so connected but so different, so structured yet always changing. So I went to college as a linguistics major, and the dream that started to form during high school started to become a goal, even a plan: simply, to translate the Bible into a language that doesn’t have one. I want to work as a linguistic consultant with a committee of translators in a community that wants the Word of God in their native language. As a Biblical Studies double-major, I know the significance of the Bible as a religious, literary, historical, and sociological document and the incredible impact it has had in those areas. As a Christian, I know the spiritual significance of this book and have seen the ways it challenges and even changes people’s relationships, behaviors, and world views–including my own.

I once heard a Bible translator tell a story about a tribe in Papua New Guinea. He was working with the leaders of the community on Bible translation when one of the men finally understood that this book was the written word of God, inspired by the Creator of everything, a God more powerful than all the ones they feared on their island. As the man soaked this in, he asked the translator slowly, “Did your father have this book?” and after the translator nodded, again, “did his father have this book?” and after asking about its heritage a few generations further back, he eventually got the idea that we had had the Word of God for a long time. In his culture, it is socially incorrect to make another person feel shame, but from the silence that followed, the translator felt the weight of the question left unspoken: Why has it taken you this long to tell us about it? 

We can’t fix all of the problems we see. We don’t even have enough energy to care about every major injustice, though many of us pretend to. In my opinion, we’d do better to spend our time and energy on causes that we can actually do something about. I chose this as my cause, or maybe God gave me a passion for it. Either way, I realized I’m willing to give several years of my life to this venture, much less a couple of summers.

I spent the summer with people who shared my love of linguistics as well as my values and passions. I shared meals and worked on homework with families home from the field, researchers and professors, and young aspiring college students like myself who plan on applying to work in Bible translation after graduating. I chose to do this training now, over the course of two summers rather than after graduation, for three reasons:

  1. So that at graduation, I can actually be done with classes for the foreseeable future.
  2. So that when I leave for the field, the support that I raise can go straight to travel and living expenses, rather than toward training.
  3. So that I can get on the field faster.

I’m blessed to have parents who are extremely supportive as I spend my summers bringing in no income of my own. They made sure that I got to SIL last summer, but this additional tuition wasn’t part of the four-year college deal. So I’m trying to raise three things:

  1. Awareness for the cause. Maybe this is something you care a lot about too? Over a hundred million people have no part of the Bible in their first language. Please do your research and spread the information and the passion for Bible translation.
  2. Funds! To work as a translator, I need to complete the second half of my training. It’s another 10 credits of classes this coming summer (2017). I’m applying and trusting God for provision, but you know he uses people, so if you can, please consider donating! You can find out more under the Donate tab.
  3. Support. Donating now doesn’t mean you have to continue to do so, but I would like to start to create a network of long-term support. That doesn’t just mean people who fill my pockets. I need people who care enough to keep up with my story and to share it, and most importantly to pray for me and the efforts of Bible translators worldwide and whatever God has in store.

Thanks for reading. Whatever your cause, wherever you are in life or geographically, serve God and serve the people around you.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 

-1 John 4:20-21