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Experiencing culture through dialogue

July 11, 2012

When Kim Lipscombe returned to Victoria after spending six months in South Korea, she was eager to visit the owner of a Korean Internet café/karaoke bar. The BA in Professional Communication (BAPC) graduate met the shop owner before she left and told him she was going to his homeland. Upon her return, they had a conversation in Korean.

Lipscombe’s trick to maintaining the six languages she knows is to seek out native speakers and carry on conversations. For her, the value of speaking different languages is being able to connect with people from a variety of cultures.

“It’s neat to just walk down the street and hear all these languages surrounding you and be able to pick up sentences and words and it brings you back to that culture and to that mindset,” she says. “Just understanding people – whether it’s on the word level or on the cultural level – is useful.”

Lipscombe started learning languages as a late French immersion student in Nelson, B.C. She studied Spanish in Grade 11 and then went on a Rotary youth exchange to Ecuador.

“After Spanish, I was hooked. I knew I loved languages and I set a goal for myself to learn seven by the time I was 30,” says the 24-year-old, who speaks conversational Portuguese and Japanese and basic Korean.

Lipscombe’s trip to Korea was a fully-funded exchange program through Selkirk College, which she attended before Royal Roads. She also went to Japan through Selkirk.

Upon her return to Canada, Lipscombe switched hats from learner of languages to teacher. While she was still in Korea, she got a job with Katimavik, a national youth learning through volunteer service organization. As a project leader, Lipscombe lived and worked with 10 participants between the ages of 17 and 21 in Vanderhoof, B.C. for three months. The program, dubbed Horizon, brought together youth from Francophone and Anglophone communities to live in a French community for three months and then an English community.

“Living so close to those youth, I could see how they changed over the three months and I can only imagine how much they changed since the beginning of the program,” Lipscombe says. “They developed not only second language skills, but they learned life skills.”

Lipscombe was only two days into her three-month contract when the federal government announced it was ending its funding commitment to Katimavik, an organization that has a 35-year history of giving more than 30,000 Canadian youth the opportunity to make a difference in communities from coast to coast. 

“It has a huge impact, not only on youth, but also for the communities,” Lipscombe says. “Katimavik unifies our country and inspires other youth to get involve and do similar programs.”

In addition to giving youth civic service experience, Katimavik programs help them acquire new skill sets through experiential learning. All programs are based around eight competencies, including engaging as a citizen and adopting an open attitude towards the diversity of social and multicultural realities – similar skills Lipscombe developed at Royal Roads and put to use as a project leader.

“Part of my job was facilitating communication between the participants, the program, the work partners and the community partners. It’s not easy living with 10 other people and I also had to work on conflict resolution within the group,” she explains, adding that she drew heavily on what she learned at Royal Roads and her experience working in groups.

“The structure of the program at Royal Roads prepared me to jump into anything,” says Lipscombe, who arrived in Vanderhoof only two days before the participants, new to the program and new to the community. “It taught me how to get a message across and that can be useful in almost any field.”

“Kim’s enormous compassion for others and mediation skills were apparent to me when she successfully guided her team through a difficult conflict,” says Prof. Virginia McKendry, head of the BAPC program. “The BAPC experience allowed her to articulate and build on those strengths. I’m so proud that RRU provides the educational context that produces BAPC alumni, like Kim, who are so motivated and skilled in doing their part to provoke positive change through their understanding of communication and culture.”

With her stint at Katimavik now wrapped up, Lipscombe is seeking other opportunities to bridge the gap between cultures. She is also trying to decide what her seventh language will be.

“I’m tired of learning new alphabets,” she says. “So I’m thinking German.”