Kerry Burgott is an alumna of the 2017 CLS Bangla program in Kolkata, India. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2017 with a Master of Public Policy and has been selected as a finalist for the prestigious U.S. Presidential Management Fellows Program. In her spare time, she and her husband enjoy having friends over for brunch and playing board games like Settlers of Catan. She also enjoys running with her dog, Lilah. Kerry plans to work in international development in South Asia, where she can use the Bangla language skills and cultural knowledge she gained through the CLS Program.
Pushing my Comfort Zone
My roommate and I lived quite far from the language institute we attended every day. We were provided transportation to the institute in the morning but were expected to make our way back in the afternoon via public transportation. The first day of class, a teacher showed us the way home on the bus. It was incredibly overwhelming the first few weeks to take the bus home alone; you must jump on (sometimes after running alongside it), it’s crowded, and there is no air conditioning, so it’s HOT. But after a few weeks of the program, I felt comfortable taking the bus. It was a great way to see the city and I felt so accomplished telling the bus driver where I was getting off, especially when he would complement me on my Bengali! I’m glad I used public transportation because it really gave me ownership of my experience and pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
Building on Prior Experiences
Prior to CLS, my exposure to Bangla culture was limited only to Bangladesh: I had stayed in Bangladesh before and many of my friends are Bangladeshi. It was enlightening to experience Bangla culture in India because the religion is different there. I was able to talk to my friends back home about where Bangla culture overlaps between India and Bangladesh and discuss how that demonstrates cultural differences based on religion.
One of the best things about learning Bangla in Kolkata is how excited people were that a foreigner was learning it. Most people there were surprised that an American wanted to learn Bangla, so they were always shocked when I was able to speak it! It felt good being told that my Bangla was “beautiful” by people even when I made mistakes or said the simplest sentence.
Bangla, Bangladesh and Beyond
Bangla is not a commonly taught language in the United States, even in an international city like Washington, D.C. The CLS Program gave me the opportunity to learn Bangla in an immersive setting – an ideal way to learn any language. Bangladesh is an incredibly important, yet overlooked, country in international relations. It has one of the largest populations in the world and is going to be greatly affected by global issues like climate change. I hope to work in the federal government in an international capacity, and to work closely with challenges facing Bangladesh.
My cultural activity class. We made puppets and performed a song and skit in Bangla for our final cultural performance. Our teacher travels around West Bengal and performs with the puppets he makes with his family.
Me and a couple of friends from the program travelled on a long weekend to Santineketan, the home town of Rabindranath Tagore, a famous Bengali poet.
My language partner and me on one of our many excursions in Kolkata. She never spoke a word of English to me!
My roommate, Kathleen, and me during a class tour of Kolkata. We are enjoying coconuts from a street vendor – so refreshing on a hot day!