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Embracing the World, One Language at a Time

Story by
Nancy Joseph

It started with a scheduling conflict. As a high school freshman in second-year French, Martin Horst had intended to take French 3 the following year. But a conflict required him to jump to French 4. He found he was able to manage the advanced material with aplomb. “It turned out that language was one of my strengths,” he says. 

Martin Horst with Frisbee

Martin Horst is passionate about languages and cultures — and ultimate Frisbee. 

Evidently so. Horst, now a UW senior majoring in French and linguistics, received two UW merit scholarships — the UW Honors Program Friedman-Hechter Merit Scholarship and the UW Fritz Merit Scholarship for Study Abroad Students — and is among this year’s Husky 100, an honor that recognizes students who have made the most of their time at the UW. Horst has studied abroad, participated in language research, served as a peer mentor for the UW Honors Program, and found time for ultimate Frisbee, serving as co-captain of the UW Ultimate Frisbee B-Team this year.

Horst credits passionate teachers with getting him hooked on language. First there was Roslyn Cooper, a French teacher (now retired) at Seattle’s Ingraham High School, who introduced students to Francophone cultures in France, North Africa, Canada, and the Caribbean. “That cultural aspect was really interesting to me,” says Horst. “She was always encouraging us to find French in our lives, whether it was watching French movies or finding French books.”

At the UW, Horst was drawn to the Department of French and Italian Studies, but he also became interested in linguistics thanks to a course taught by Laura McGarrity, senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics. “She was able to connect the things we were learning in class to things outside,” Horst says. “When you have instructors who are able to make those connections, you understand the material so much better.”

I am no longer scared of that which is unfamiliar, because language has been my bridge to compassion and understanding others.

It helps that Horst has a natural affinity for language. He is interested in how language works but also how it bridges cultures, allowing us to communicate with people from vastly different backgrounds. He experienced that firsthand during a year-long study abroad at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco through the UW’s Direct Exchange Program. 

“It was a life-changing experience,” Horst says. “I’m from Seattle, so the UW is a ten-minute car ride from home. This was my first experience living in a different city ever. Being thrown into a totally different culture after spending my entire life here was a huge change.”

Martin Horst

Horst took intensive Arabic the summer before his study abroad, spending five days a week learning Arabic script, language, and culture. “I didn’t want to show up there and not be able to communicate,” he says. “I finished my Arabic final on a Thursday and left for Morocco the following Monday. I barely had time to say my goodbyes.”

A year later Horst was immersed in another language and culture with even less preparation. While in Morocco, he heard about an upcoming nine-month research assistantship in Madrid — no Spanish proficiency required — through the UW Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. He applied and was accepted along with 15 other students. He spent the following year in a Madrid preschool, immersing children of different ages in English language through play, and then measuring how much English they learned and the processes behind that acquisition. 

That experience led Horst to pursue more research opportunities. Back at the UW, he worked on the English in the Pacific Northwest Project, led by linguistics professor Alicia Wassink, which explores how different sociocultural communities are shaping the Pacific Northwest dialect of English. “I discovered that learning from faculty, collaborating with academics, was something I really enjoy,” says Horst. “That project solidified my grad school aspirations. I want to continue doing research.”

While a career in academia is Horst’s long-term goal, he has other plans for the near future. After graduating, he will work at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, Inc., which helps children and adults with reading disabilities improve their reading using research-based language techniques. “I enjoy working with kids, especially one-on-one,” says Horst. “I’m passionate about tutoring, mentoring, and teaching. It sometimes doesn’t even feel like work.”

Martin Horst and his Ultimate Frisbee team in Madrid

While participating in UW research In Madrid, Martin Horst (front row, with blue jacket tied around his neck) joined a local ultimate Frisbee team, the Quijotes.

Horst plans to continue working with children, teaching English in schools near Paris through the Teaching Assistant Program in France. He then hopes to pursue a PhD in French or linguistics, with the goal of inspiring the next generation as he has been inspired. Wherever he ends up, Horst believes his newfound confidence and his knowledge of multiple languages will be a huge advantage, personally as well as professionally.

“I am no longer scared of that which is unfamiliar, because language has been my bridge to compassion and understanding others,” says Horst. “I think Nelson Mandela said it best: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.’ This statement has inspired me to reach out into the world, to become a fearless globetrotter. I could not have done this when I started at the UW, but now I have grown into someone who can.” 

To learn how you can provide scholarship support to students like Martin, visit the College's website or contact Jessica Frederick at 206-616-3253 or jessimay@uw.edu