20 October 2020

From Many Languages One World to Pediatric Doctor: Sammy Duncan Musungu

The Many Languages, One World (MLOW) essay contest, co-hosted by ELS Educational Services and United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) from 2014-2017, challenged university students worldwide to write an essay examining global citizenship, cultural understanding and the role of multilingualism in fostering both. The essay had to be written in one of the six official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), but not in the student’s first language or primary language of instruction. Winners of the contest were invited to United Nations Headquarters for the Global Youth Forum, where they created and presented action plans for the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda.

This follow-up series reconnects with the MLOW contest winners to showcase their journeys since the contest and spotlights their reflections on language learning and how it shaped their educational and professional pursuits.

Sammy Duncan Musungu was a winner of the contest in the Spanish language group in 2016. He is now a doctor in the pediatrics department at the Kakamega County referral Hospital, a level 5 (provincial) hospital in Western Kenya.

Read on to find out how learning a foreign language broadened Sammy’s multicultural understanding and opened new doors of opportunities for him.

I have always had a special interest in global affairs. With the world being a global village, global issues have always had an impact on local communities and societies. My main inspiration for participating in the Many Languages One World competition was the desire to have my voice heard. There was no better place to project my opinion on critical global issues like the United Nations. The honor to stand and give a speech in front of an audience of eminent persons in the United Nations General Assembly Hall was an unforgettable experience.

The subject of my essay was “Global Citizenship and Cultural Understanding”, written in Spanish. The essay mainly focused on Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) on how we can use multilingualism and multiculturalism to build inclusive societies with strong institutions that will provide justice for all across cultures.

I studied medicine and surgery in Venezuela for 7 years. I also did a diploma course in Spanish Language in Venezuela. Learning a foreign language opened many doors for me and also broadened my mind into multicultural understanding. During my stay in South America, I also taught myself basic Italian and Portuguese with the help of my classmates who were fluent in those languages. After the contest I have participated in other events like the Jovellanos International Poetry Prize 2018 where I was privileged to be among the finalists and the African Change Maker Fellowship in 2018. One of the challenges that I faced while learning in a culture that was totally different from mine was correct pronunciation of words. Sometimes it led to shortfalls in communicating during daily life activities like going to a grocery store, but practice makes perfect. I managed to practice every day, correct pronunciation and the use of Spanish syllables until I was fluent in the language.

Learning different languages has provided me with an edge in terms of engaging with the world in a more meaningful way. It has not only helped me to communicate better with a greater number of people, but also opened new doors of opportunities. Multilingualism has helped me during my patient-doctor interactions. I have now realized how people become comfortable when you communicate with them using their mother tongue. Learning a new language helps one to become open to a new culture and also become more receptive and appreciative of others’ thoughts and actions. My clinical decision-making skills have been sharpened through multilingualism. When making critical clinical decisions, I have been able to draw solutions from my understanding of a problem using different languages, which has allowed me to rely more on analytic processes than emotional linguistic cues. This has helped me strive to become a better doctor every day.

With the many challenges the world is facing now, cultural dialogue is critical. Societies need to understand each other through the cultural prism seen with the multilingual point of view.