Tagalog Speakers in the Professional World

BYU students have found creative ways to use their mission languages in professional settings, even though some of these languages are isolated to a single area in the world.

PROVO, Utah (November 16, 2020)—BYU students have found numerous ways to use their mission languages in their education and careers, despite the fact that most of these languages are not widely spoken in the United States. Tagalog speaking students are no exception to this rule.

One such student is Mariah Critchfield, a BYU graduate in her second year at the J. Reuben Clark Law School. Critchfield served her mission in the Philippines San Pablo Mission (Tagalog speaking) from 2013 to 2015, and her experiences there have had a big impact on her undergraduate and graduate studies.

After graduating from BYU in December 2018 with a major in social science teaching and a minor in editing, Critchfield began her training to become a lawyer.

“When I started law school, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do, but I quickly learned more about immigration law, and I decided that that was something that I could feel really passionate about.”

Critchfield was immediately drawn to international law associated with the Philippines as she began her studies, with two issues that have especially caught her attention: Filipino divorce law and Filipino immigration limits in the United States.

“From what I understand,” Critchfield stated, “the Philippines is actually one of two countries that doesn’t allow for divorce. They have current laws and bills in progress because that has been an issue that has come up a lot there, and that might be moving forward, but it’s a women’s rights issue.”

Critchfield continued that in “a lot of the situations, people [in the Philippines] would have gotten married, and then separated and started families with other people, but they never legally got divorced from the first marriage. They couldn’t progress with baptism in [the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] because they couldn’t leave their current family, but they were legally married to someone else, so it was kind of messy to figure out what to do.”

The immigration issue is intriguing for Critchfield as well since she is studying to become an immigration attorney. Many Filipinos have family of friends who have moved to the United States, but they are not able to join them in the United States due to caps on immigration.

“There’s a [large proportion] of Filipinos who are wanting to come because there are so many that have a U.S. connection, so I’d want to help families that are separated to help their family members get over to the United States and become citizens or permanent residents.”

Critchfield hopes to establish an immigration niche in the Filipino community and give back to the people she came to love through her mission.

“Everyone deserves that chance to talk to someone in their own language that’s familiar to them, especially when the process is not familiar to them . . . . It is cool to be able to study [immigration law] and be in a position to help people navigate a system that’s so complicated and changing and especially for a people that I already have a cultural and language connection to.”

Jake Dustin is another BYU student using Tagalog to make connections beyond the classroom. Dustin served in the Philippines Manila Mission from 2015 to 2017 and is majoring in computer science and minoring in math.

Dustin currently works for Qualtrics, a software company with offices worldwide, including one in Provo. With clients spanning the globe, it can be difficult to know how to do business with companies with different cultures. Dustin’s experiences in the Philippines have offered new opportunities in both his scholastic and professional endeavors.

Dustin commented, “Right now, I’m on the finance team, and I work closely with the collections team. . . [to] contact our clients if they have overdue payments and that kind of thing, and I think 90% of them are based in Manila.”

Dustin continued, “Every time I get a new collections person, I write them an email saying ‘hello,’ and at the end, I write ‘if you ever want to speak Tagalog with me, let me know’ in Tagalog, and that helped me to develop really positive relationships with them, which was something that we were kind of lacking on our team just because it’s difficult to [communicate with] somebody who is on a completely different time zone from you, who doesn’t speak the same language as you originally, who doesn’t have the same cultural background as a lot of our clients.”

Dustin’s knowledge of the Philippines and the Tagalog language have opened up opportunities at his job to work on projects that would have otherwise been given to others in the company. Working with Filipinos on a professional level has shed light on Filipino culture for Dustin.

“It’s really opened my eyes to a lot of things culturally that I didn’t understand before, and it’s helped me develop a lot more empathy, not just toward people from those cultures, but about people from everywhere, including people here in the U.S. Just understanding how much your point of view can change based on something as simple as what language you speak.”

Dustin hopes to continue working with Tagalog in the future.

“I realized that [in] a lot of Filipino dictionaries, it’s like the traditional dictionary form, like Webster’s where it’s just alphabetical, which Tagalog does really lend itself to just because of how the language is structured, there’s several thousand root words, and then those are changed completely based on the suffixes and affixes, and so it’s difficult to use a dictionary to look up a specific word. So I haven’t stated the project yet, but something I have been drawing up plans for is potentially building a website just as a service where people can potentially have a more effective Tagalog dictionary, just kind of blending the computer science and Tagalog sides of things.”

Economics major Marissa Gerber uses Tagalog every day as an MTC teacher, but her assignment at work is different than most people expect. After serving in the Philippines Laoag Mission from August of 2018 to February of 2020, Gerber was hired at the MTC to teach young missionaries. Because of COVID-19, her work assignment changed to teaching senior missionaries.

“I have the coolest job,” commented Gerber. “I was hired in the senior tutoring department, and basically what we do in that department is we tutor senior missionaries and help them learn Tagalog. It’s really neat because we create the curriculum. With [young] missionaries, you have your basic core established, but with senior missionaries, it’s really on-demand style.”

Gerber teaches senior missionaries virtually before they enter the mission field, and she works with them even after they have arrived in the Philippines.

“Some of these people have learned a language before and some never have, and some of them have served missions and others haven’t, so it’s cool to be able to learn from them,” Gerber remarked. “Yeah, I’m teaching them Tagalog, but they are teaching me a lot of life skills. So it’s cool that Tagalog has given me the opportunity to expand my horizons in life, not just linguistically.”

Gerber explained that most of the time, it is not required for senior couples to learn the language of the country in which they serve. English is widely spoken in the Philippines, so she is all the more impressed with senior couples that step out of their comfort zones to learn Tagalog.

But the senior couples are not the only ones who are learning. Gerber reflected, “I’ve improved a lot. I have learned stuff that I did wrong my whole mission . . . . This cultural knowledge has given me more of an understanding, and it’s helped missionaries understand. It’s helped me feel more proficient; I can answer questions better. It gave me a deeper love for the country and more of a desire to use the language.”

Gerber hopes to use Tagalog in her future career whenever possible.

“I would like to keep using it in any way that I can . . . I’d really love to help improve education systems, and if I can do that in the Philippines, that would be really cool, especially in these third world developing countries. Instead of creating policy, my goal is to analyze what is out there for effectiveness and suggest new ideas for how we can improve effectiveness of education, and I’d love to be able to use Tagalog in that. And even if I can’t, [I want] to be able to use the skills I learned while learning Tagalog.”

— Molly Ogden Welch (B.A. Communications ’22)