Of Accents and Being

March 26 2015

Dear awesome humans,

I want to start by telling you that you are loved.

I don’t know what your life is like right now, nor do I need to. The only thing you need to know is that despite what you may be thinking, you are most definitely loved, appreciated, and treasured. You matter.


When I saw “You’ve won the Listserve!” in my inbox, I thought how clever an idea it was to punk 25,000 people by having that as a Listserve submission. Then I opened the mail and realized – holy mackerel, I actually won The Listserve!

No pithy life advice, no memoirs, just a clarion call for others out there like me.

I was born in Asia and spent all my life there before living 18 months in the States on a study abroad-cum-internship program. I vowed early on that I would not do the FOB thing and thus embraced arms-open lips-puckered all that the beautiful state of Washington had to offer me: its people, its culture, its eternal rain.

The result of all those months engaging Americana? A blended accent, blended enough that people in my country of origin believe I sound American, while I and other Americans know it’s a little right of center at best.

Have you ever lived somewhere for a long time, had your accent evolve, and then come back to a society that judges you for it?

Anyone who has been abroad for extended periods will know that accent shifts happen naturally, and, sometimes, irreversibly. Some maintain the ability to code switch between their evolved and original accents; others can’t. I belong to the latter.

I hold no shame for my blended accent; the way we speak is an integral part of our personality and I’ve become a more outspoken, confident person as a result. I thoroughly embrace it as a part of me that has changed and evolved with the experiences I’ve opened myself to. But many people in my country don’t see it that way: I’ve had revulsion, confusion, and mockery for “trying to change my accent” because I can’t code-switch back.

I’m an egotistical douchebag so I usually don’t let it get to me, but I would be lying if I said I’ve been totally impervious to some of the things I’ve heard. You don’t realize how personal your accent is until you spend days in a slump because someone gave you crap for the way you speak.

The odd part of this is that I have good days, where I mentally occupy the same space I did while living in the States and am suave charismatic and eloquent, and really off days where I exist in an obfuscating limbo where I struggle to say even the most basic of sentences and become a blubbering mess. It is something I have no control over and it’s given me anxiety in both my personal and professional life. Sometimes it is limiting when I want to express myself and am unable to say it in a manner congruent with my manner of speech. Cognitive dissonance in the extreme?

My plea – I want to hear from others like me. Maybe you were judged for having an evolved accent, or perhaps you too lost your ability to code switch and you share my struggle of good/off days. Send me an email. I want to connect with you.

Or perhaps you’re a speech pathologist and can diagnose the above-mentioned problem. If so, I really really want to hear from you.

Or maybe you’re someone in the US looking for an extremely capable and talented individual willing to work his butt off at whatever cost. I’m an honors graduate, 2 years in the banking industry with easily transplantable skills a fervent desire to follow my destiny and work in the US. Hire me! (For real, CV readily available on request.)

Some closing thoughts:

Everyone should try salsa/social dance
Walk up and talk to that girl you see at the bar/coffee shop/street
Manage your finances properly and start saving from a young age

Leonard H
[email protected]

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