Dr. Hustad Interview: Building Empathy Through Language 

Will Zerbay

Most of the school knows Dr. Hustad is the Mandarin teacher at VMS. In 2004, he and his wife decided they wanted some new experiences. They booked a one-way plane ticket to Beijing, China, without knowledge of Chinese. When they arrived, they booked a hotel for a month and didn’t know what would happen. He says that the best way to learn a language is to throw yourself off the deep end and make yourself uncomfortable, and I think he has the experience to back that up. 

Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, many may believe he wasn’t exposed to much of anything; however, he says that is incorrect. Lincoln is a central refugee resettlement area, and because of that, he was surrounded by many different cultures growing up. He was found constantly soaking up the information about these people’s lives but had trouble communicating fully in English. As he traveled, he wanted to continue learning about others because of the fantastic stories they could tell. However, he continually found that the best way to do so was to communicate with them in their language.

Being able to speak a language that someone else grew up speaking and that they can portray their full emotions through is very special. That is why Dr. Hustad encourages others to learn languages, it gives you a different outlook on other people’s lives, something that very few of us will get a chance to experience. I encourage all of you to go talk to him about his experiences in China, because he is incredibly willing to share, and it is always valuable to expand your outlook and perspective on the world.