Student Spotlight: Rebekah Skoog

Portrait of Rebekah Skoog standing in a snowy field.

In this episode, hear from Rebekah Skoog, a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, on her passion for language learning and how it can increase cultural empathy.


My name is Rebekah Skoog and I am a doctoral student in the department of anthropology.  

I'm really focused more on the culture of teaching and the socialization of teachers in Montana. I think Montana offers a really interesting place to look at language teachers and how they have come to practice their craft. My main goal is to tell the story of these educators, because I think, we know that language education, and having a second language increases empathy in the students and allows them to have a different perspective and have a different understanding of other cultures. To learn another language is still to open empathy to another culture regardless of the culture. 

I really, really wanted to learn French. And in middle school I had the opportunity to start taking French. To be honest, there were a lot of reasons that French sort of drew me in. I think the first was just the sound of the language. It's so beautiful. And has such a, has such an interesting sound. 

So, in my undergrad I ended up studying abroad in France. I really, really liked it. But part of that program was I got to go to Burkina Faso in Africa. And, while I was there, I realized that learning French and learning culture was really, really important because I had a very big misconception about what it meant to be African. My initial thought was like, wow, I was so wrong about what I thought I was going to see here. I think it was my first real interaction with my white privilege like my first real recognition that I come with cultural capital and racial capital, in a way. The recognition of those misconceptions, those things that I didn't realize that I had is really what brought me to anthropology. Because I think in education and as a teacher, I think that's what I want for my students to realize is, is their privileges, but also like their background where we really come from, but also who others are. 

I ended up teaching French for five years. And, I loved teaching. And so, what brought me essentially to Montana is I got to a place in my teaching where I felt like this just isn't enough.  Language has such an opportunity to bring people cultural empathy in a way that I think other courses can't. And so, I really wanted to take my experience as an anthropologist, my experience as a language teacher and studying, and a language student, and take them to the next level. 

It was really my advisor, G.G. Weix, who convinced me to come here, not because she was like, you have to come here. But because when I spoke with her, she had such a passion for my potential. And I felt that, I wanted to make sure that I had an advisor, somebody who would not only have my back, but also see the potential in what I'm doing. And I think with research in this type of field, it's very eclectic, it's interdisciplinary. And I saw that at the University of Montana, I might be able to fit all those pieces together: education, language and culture.