CoJMC alumna uses experience from journalism capstone to research immigrant communities

CoJMC alumna uses experience from journalism capstone to research immigrant communities

Monday, May 7, 2018 - 10:45am
Flora Zempleni (left), a CoJMC graduate, discusses how the journalism program’s Mosaic class has impacted her career and interests.

by Anika Zempleni

Flora Zempleni, a 2016 CoJMC grad, had never heard of language brokers until she took professor Tim Anderson's Mosaic class.

“I was really inspired by the capstone I took at UNL, the Mosaic class, where we had to report on refugee communities in Nebraska,” Zempleni said. “That’s where I was first introduced to the concept of language brokering, in a class textbook by Mary Pipher.”

Zempleni saw language brokering firsthand in interviews she conducted for Mosaic. A refugee woman once told her that every time there was an issue with household bills, she would have to ask her daughter to make calls for her. The woman said she felt incredibly accomplished the day she could call by herself.

“I knew right away I wanted to learn more,” Zempleni said.

With undergraduate majors in journalism, global studies and French, Zempleni, 23, pursued more by studying at the University of Luxembourg where she is on track to receive a master’s degree in learning and communication in multilingual and multicultural contexts.

Zempleni’s experience with languages and immigrants began even earlier.

When she was a year old, her parents immigrated to the United States from Innsbruck, Austria, in her father’s pursuit of post-doctorate work. She grew up speaking German and English and soon added French when she started taking classes in middle school. In high school, she helped teach English to immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The University of Luxembourg is a tri-lingual university of German, French and English, which are the three languages I speak to varying degrees.” Zempleni said. “The program deals with a lot of things that interested me, including courses on linguistics, language and migration.”

As Zempleni nears the end of her program, she has started research on her thesis topic: language brokers in the multilingual context of Luxembourg.

“Language brokering happens when a family immigrates to a country and, very often, the children pick up the language more quickly than their parents,” Zempleni said. “When these children learn the language faster, their parents will ask them to act as informal translators.”

This niche aspect of immigrant life is often studied in doctors’ offices, where parents bring their children along to translate important medical information.

Zempleni’s master’s thesis is based on interviews with immigrant families in Luxembourg. As she begins to meet with participants, Zempleni said she realizes how much the Mosaic capstone and journalism program have helped her succeed.

“I learned how to write questions, how to do the interview process, how to follow the course of an interview and dig deeper. I learned to not be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.”

Zempleni has chosen to focus on the lives and stories of immigrants to inspire her research at a time when discussions of refugees and immigration have become increasingly politicized.

“It’s really important to push yourself to meet people you may not necessarily talk to in your everyday classes,” Zempleni said. “Some of my fondest memories of all the work I have done as a journalist are tied to the interviews I did for the Mosaic class, because the stories were so moving and unlike anything I had ever done before.”