MISUNDERSTOOD: names & accents: Sophie Coste

Sophie Coste

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I was born and raised in Garches, a small suburb of Paris, and I spent the entirety of my childhood in the French schooling system with French friends and family only speaking French. My family decided to move to New York when I was thirteen, and the sudden transition to an American school in a new country was challenging. While I spoke conversational English, I came to eighth grade at Horace Mann with a distinct accent and limited vocabulary. Initially, I struggled to express myself without feeling frustrated at my inability to find the right words. Whenever I joined group discussions with friends, I felt that my contributions were clumsy or unnecessary, since I knew little about American culture and had almost nothing in common with people my age here.

Back in France, classes were large and lecture-based. This was notably different from Horace Mann’s small classes that encouraged in-depth conversations between students. The American schooling system teaches students from a young age to present their ideas clearly in front of an audience and places importance on verbal skills. This system contrasted from my French education: I had never been taught nor had the confidence to debate and freely express my ideas in front of a class. Moving here, I had to learn these skills for the first time, but now in English.

Since coming to Horace Mann, I have struggled with mispronouncing words and formulating convincing arguments. Although my accent has faded, I still fear public speaking because I think that I will be perceived as less intelligent than my peers. I have also lost the ability to effortlessly speak and write in French, since I only practice it at home. Losing my native language, even just a little, entails the loss of my culture, which makes being an immigrant more difficult for me. Nevertheless, I have never felt significantly alienated from my peers because of my accent, which might also be due to the fact that I am white. I cherish the opportunities that being culturally ambidextrous has offered me, and I am still discovering the ways in which I can utilize my background and experience to my advantage.