Aaron Oculto: "language-learning enabled a bridge connecting me to my parents and my own heritage"

October 17, 2023

Tell me about yourself and what languages you speak. 
I am a double major in Political Science and South and Southeast Asian Studies with a minor in Political Policy. I currently speak English, Tagalog, and American Sign Language, and I'm currently learning Burmese. 

Why did you choose to study these specific languages? 
I think the reason why I chose to study these languages was a mix of the fact that I am of Southeast Asian descent. I am Filipino, specifically. So I have a lot of connection with my heritage. I feel as though language is such an important thing in terms of being able to bridge the connection between my parents and my own heritage. I think language learning has allowed me to connect with my family and distant relatives in a way that really allowed me to feel closer to my heritage. 

Burmese is just so interesting because it ties into my current thesis project right in political science. I feel as though speaking the language of the people and places that you study helps you to actively engage with the material and the literature. Honestly, the more languages I speak in the Southeast Asian regions, the more connected I feel to my heritage. 

What came first? Your thesis topic or the language component? 
It was kinda both. While I majored in Political Science first, it was when I took a Southeast Asian Politics class that I learned about current political and social developments and from there, I was introduced to unique religious, cultural and political dynamics in Burma. I feel as though I can make a difference in not only academia but also in the way we address a crisis like this — this is what pushed me to learn Burmese. 

What career path are you interested in pursuing and will you continue your language learning? 
I definitely don’t see my language journey ending at Berkeley and I do plan on using my multilingualism both personally and professionally. That said, as a student these classes are so accessible to you and I know that after graduation, I’ll have to actively seek out opportunities. 

It's easy when you're here and you're taking all these classes that are interdisciplinary and you might somehow overlook a language class. But for me, it was the opposite, all I wanted to do was take language classes.  

After graduation, I very much want to pursue a law degree. I also want to pursue research in Burma, so I'm hoping in the future I can somehow reconcile these two for sure. I think I can definitely do it. 

What is your advice for students who are just starting on their language-learning journey? 
Just do it! I think the opportunities that come from learning numerous languages just open you up to so many different groups and friends on campus, but at the same time just like an interesting way in which you can look at the world in different ways. With each language, I learned a little bit more about human nature, and I personally have always been very fascinated by how individuals communicate and connect to themselves and their culture. Learning another language just helps you like, really, understand the human condition a bit more. That might seem a little philosophical, but by learning my own home language, I feel like I've learned a little bit more about my culture.