UNC Charlotte student wins U.N. language contest (Full story)

Charlotte Observer

Published: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Ten contestants were chosen to represent each official U.N. language. Lauren Klein, second from left, is pictured with the other Russian-speaking contest winners/delegates, accompanied by an ELS coordinator, kneeling.

Lauren Klein, a 20-year-old rising sophomore at UNC Charlotte, is one of 60 college students worldwide to win the United Nations’ “Many Languages, One World” essay contest.

She received round-trip airfare and accommodations to participate in a five-day Global Youth Forum in New York at the end of June. There, the student winners made presentations at the U.N. based on the principles of the United Nations Academic Impact.

ELS Educational Services Inc. and the U.N. Academic Impact created the essay contest to promote multilingualism.

About 1,500 students submitted essays on the importance of global citizenship and fostering multilingualism. The essays had to be written in one of the six official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian or Spanish.

The essay had to be written in a language that was not the student’s native tongue or their language of study before starting undergraduate coursework. Klein wrote her essay in Russian.

“I have never had an experience before that was at the same time so encouraging, which assured me so well of my own abilities, and inspired me to do more,” said Klein, who’s studying Russian and translation at UNCC.

Klein was encouraged to participate in the competition by her Russian instructor, Yuliya Baldwin.

Baldwin, an award-winning Russian language and Russian literature instructor who has taught at UNCC for 13 years, said, “I am very proud of Lauren’s accomplishments. She worked really hard. … She is exceptionally bright and gifted.”

Baldwin said she encouraged three of her Russian students to participate, but Klein was the only one who submitted an essay to the competition. She mentored Klein throughout the process, inspiring Klein to find a personal focus for the essay and coaching her through the second-round interview.

Klein’s essay concentrated on her unwavering desire to learn Russian, even though she didn’t understand why her parents and grandparents discouraged her from learning the language.

Only after Baldwin’s suggestion, Klein researched her family history and found out that her mother’s great-grandparents were Jewish refugees who immigrated to western Canada from the Russian Empire because of religious persecution.

Klein, who grew up in western Canada and lives in Toronto, Ontario, when she’s not attending UNCC full time, said that unsettling truth made learning Russian more meaningful.

In a translation from her essay, Klein wrote, “I believe that when a person decides to learn the language spoken by the oppressors of her ancestors, she makes the first step to forget the past, live in the present and change the future.”

Klein made the next step during her U.N. presentation on the tenth UNAI principle: “A commitment to promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding, and the ‘unlearning’ of intolerance, through education.”

Klein said her speech’s theme was that the problem is lack of understanding. She made a commitment to write about her U.N. experience in Russian and English. She also plans to create a space where students studying Russian can connect with native Russian college students to learn more about Russian culture from a first-hand perspective. She plans to begin working on those initiatives this summer.

Beyond the U.N. presentation, Klein said the experience gave her a chance to connect with many culturally diverse yet like-minded people and helped her gain confidence in herself and her desired career path.

Klein aspires to be an interpreter or language specialist at the U.N. or another organization with similar goals and values.

The “Many Languages, One World” competition commemorated the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. The event was organized by ELS, in conjunction with Adelphi University, to get students worldwide to discuss, present and continue to share information on the principles of the UNAI.

ELS Education Services Inc. works with international students to help them prepare and get accepted at higher education institutions around the world. UNAI, launched in 2010, connects higher education institutions with the U.N. to promote peace, security, human rights and sustainable development through intellectual engagement and research.


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