Do You Speak Southern?
By Chris Accornero (PhD ICS '99)
My first semester as a new faculty member last year at Southern Wesleyan University, in Central, South Carolina, started on a Tuesday: opening convocation day, chapel day, meet everyone all at once day. I was excited to get going with new courses and the 70-plus students whose names and faces I was trying to memorize from the class lists. After 25 years away, I was back in the world of undergraduate education--where I'd spent the first part of my career life--and so looking forward to this new assignment. Yes, I was overwhelmed and nervous!
The speaker for the opening convocation--traditionally the previous year's faculty member of the year--was Harold Waters, a member of the education faculty. His topic: "Do You Speak Southern?"
For 20 minutes he had us laughing, shouting out strange words, responding to crazy pictures, and having fun. He did a brilliant job of educating us all on southern dialect, slang words, and the regional habits of his home state of South Carolina. The more Harold talked, however, the more nervous I got. I couldn't understand half of what he was saying! All of my cross-cultural training and experience was not helping in this new cultural context. I tried in vain to recall the tools Fuller's Betty Sue Brewster had given us for language learning, but nothing was working. Then I told myself, "Oh, that's just Harold--it couldn't be that hard." And off I went to teach my first class.
When my new young students started to introduce themselves, however--panic! I couldn't understand half of what they were saying. Now, you may be thinking it was just a generational thing or that my hearing was slowly going, but, in reality, I didn't speak Southern. Later that day my new colleague Harold laughingly offered me translation help in the form of a "Gullah" translation of the Bible. Do you know of the Gullah people who inhabit the barrier islands off the coast of the Carolinas? Now I knew that it was hopeless -- my southern Californian did not translate!
But here I am, six months later, laughing at myself, having so much fun in my new culture at Southern Wesleyan University. What a joyous journey has begun. I've come full circle: back to undergraduate education, to the world of student athletes and dorm rooms.
These young women and men have given me such hope for the future of the Church and God's worldwide missionary enterprise. I came to teach them, and they in turn are teaching me -- how to love life, to laugh a lot, to enjoy the little things, to dream big, and to have a childlike sense of wonder. Undergraduates are easily distracted and bored, writing more on each others' Facebook "walls" than they do on research topics. Yet at the same time, they have deep spiritual longings, seek truth and integrity, and want to know what is "real." So refreshing!
And, little by little, I'm learning to speak Southern! Can't wait to see what God is going to do with us, together.