First-gen college student grateful for diverse perspectives

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Dulce Parra-Barrera, a multilingual first-generation Arizona State University student, will be putting her ease with languages to good use soon.

Parra-Barrera is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring and has secured a position with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a teaching exchange managed by the government of Japan.

It’s a dream come true for this native of Goodyear, Arizona, who had always hoped to teach English abroad. She has prepared herself well; in addition to her linguistics degree, she’s also completing a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Academic credentials in hand, Parra-Barrera will be also employing a surfeit of practical experience in her teaching. She studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, during her sophomore year, even learning Korean before leaving the U.S. That won’t be true for her Japanese immersion, however: “Japanese is quite intimidating to me,” she admitted.

Parra-Barrera completed several internships through the Department of English, including a stint teaching English to Major League Baseball players. She described how her language chops came in handy working with the San Diego Padres. “There was a student here and there who wasn't from Latin America, but since most were — and I am a native Spanish speaker — communication was not an issue,” she explained. “It was my first teaching experience after having taken TESOL courses, so it was interesting to put what we spoke of in class into action.

“I loved seeing when the players would tell us stories of them effectively using their English. It made me realize that I really do enjoy what I'm studying and that it can make a difference. It was a really rewarding experience, because the players are such big sweethearts. Honestly, I had never cared for baseball, but now I just follow the team's social media to see them progress.”

English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud praised Parra-Barrera’s initiative and eagerness for adventure. “Dulce is the ultimate 'yes' student — always open to new experiences, always up for academic and professional challenges, and never one to close a door to an opportunity.”

We spoke with Parra-Barrera to find out more about her journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: I remember growing up not knowing what linguistics was, but I knew I wanted to be able to live in another country. I had discussed the idea of teaching English abroad since sixth grade, and one of my friends enlightened me on how linguistics correlated to that dream job in high school. When I finally took my “Intro to Linguistics” course at ASU, I realized it was definitely the route for me. It wasn't necessarily an "aha" moment of realizing I wanted to study in the field; it felt more like a relief that I had picked something I found interesting.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I came from a high school that was largely filled with minorities; like, we only had two Caucasians in our graduating class. As a Hispanic that grew up around other Hispanics, I was under an impression that most folks had gone through the same milestones and struggles that I had. Of course, that's never the case even between Hispanics, but there was that solidarity and I no longer had that. So, when I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was. I think being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, as a first-generation college student I had no guidance in college applications or the like. I had applied to other places, but as I had decided before even applying that I would be traveling after college, I felt that being close to my family was important to me. The second I decided I wanted to stay near my family as long as I'm attending school, ASU was the only choice.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Ruby Macksoud is definitely the professor that taught me the most academically and in regards to skills outside the classroom as well. I think the most important lesson she's taught me though is that no teacher is perfect. As someone who wants to teach in the future and as a student I think it’s something that everyone should be aware of. We're all human and there's always room for improvement. If you mess up one day, tomorrow is another day and you can tackle that problem in another way if needed.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: You don't have to follow one path to succeed, and it's OK to change your mind because there are endless possibilities to achieve what you deem success.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I found my friends and I meeting up at the dining halls constantly as well as our dorm rooms. The fact that we all lived on campus made it easy to meet up on campus as well. During finals I'd end up at Hayden Library all the time, as well as in between classes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was accepted to the JET Program, so if everything goes well, I will be an English teaching assistant in Japan.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I had $40 million, I know that it would not necessarily fix the problem I'd like to tackle, but I'd want to give it to the Arizona public school system. I really do believe teachers should be paid more and if I could at least make a dent in assisting some schools with that, I would gladly hand over my $40 million.