2017-08-31 / Life in Leelanau

A NEW WORLD

Exchange program provides life-changing experiences for multilingual Leland woman
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


TRAVEL HAS been a huge part of Sierra Parent’s foreign language studies. She is shown, right, riding a camel in Petra, Jordan. TRAVEL HAS been a huge part of Sierra Parent’s foreign language studies. She is shown, right, riding a camel in Petra, Jordan. Study abroad opened up a whole new world for Sierra Parent of Leland.

With no foreign language under her belt, she traveled to Bergamo, Italy as a Rotary exchange student in 2010-11. Many countries hosting Rotary exchange students have foreign language requirements. Italy didn’t.

“My first host family spoke English, so I didn’t really have to learn Italian,” Parent said. “So when I went to my second host family, I was lost. I had to bring a dictionary with me to the dinner table.

“It was tough … I wanted to go home.”

But she persevered and something clicked — in a big way.

The girl who knew no foreign language when she went to Europe for her senior year of high school now speaks five languages in addition to her native English. They are the Latin-based languages of Italian, Spanish and French as well as German and her most-recent tongue, Arabic.


SIERRA PARENT, a former Rotary exchange student, is shown here with a local merchant wearing a traditional Moroccan dress in Meknes, Moracco. SIERRA PARENT, a former Rotary exchange student, is shown here with a local merchant wearing a traditional Moroccan dress in Meknes, Moracco. “I don’t like to call it a gift. It’s a skill I’ve worked hard to develop,” Parent said.

In addition to speaking only the language she is studying, she also watches foreign language films with English subtitles.

After returning home from Italy, she enrolled at Lansing Community College and received instruction in Spanish and earned a scholarship to study in Stuttgart, Germany.

She transferred to Michigan State University where travel would continue to be part of her studies with another trip to Germany and then in Jordan, where she was part of an immersion program in Arabic.

“We weren’t allowed to speak any English or we were out,” Parent said.

She also traveled to Morocco and learned the difference between various Arabic dialects.

“I love to talk with people. They can’t believe that I’m American,” she said. “That’s a great compliment.”

Last summer, her unique language skills were put to the test. She and a friend were tapped to work as translators with Syrian refugees.

“We talked with them to get information and then translated the information into German, for a German relief agency,” she said.

She graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in German and Arabic with a minor in Muslim studies. Parent was recently at home in Leland where she visited her mother, Marie Parent, and became engaged to her boyfriend, Don Adams, whom she met in Leland during summer 2016.

Parent’s father, Dorian, lives in Prescott, Ariz.

“Don doesn’t speak any foreign languages, but he’s studying French,” she said.

Parent has applied for one of 100 prestigious Rotary Peace Fellowships available worldwide to those pursuing a certificate or master’s degree program related to peace and conflict resolution.

There are six Rotary Peace Centers across the globe: the Duke/University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia; Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand; International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan; University of Bradford, Bradford, England and Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, her preference.

“The program is in English, but I will learn Swedish,” she said.

Ultimately, Parent would like to pursue a career in foreign service — not pushing papers around in an office — but working directly with people.

Parent, who at one time dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, said Rotary changed her life and that of her older sister, Dana, who spent a year abroad as a Rotary exchange student in Australia.

“I am who I am today because of Rotary,” she said. “It changed my life.”

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