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Office of International Affairs


‌‌Selma Zaki is a second-year master’s candidate in Psychological Counseling in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology. This past year, Selma and three other TC students—Charlotte Hamm, Nour Salem, and Lai la Salam—founded an initiative called In Fluency to explore the intersection of psychology and politics and examine the role of mental health professionals and other change agents within that intersection. On April 21st, In Fluency hosted their first event “Psychology Beyond Borders: Lessons from Sudan, Kashmir, Palestine, and Burma.” Co-sponsored by the Office of International Affairs (OIA), the panel featured a diverse cast of mental health experts and activists sharing their narratives about the extent to which the current political situation in their respective countries impacts citizens’ mental health.

In Fluency was born out of both a feeling of disconnect and a need to reconnect—to oneself, to the TC community, and to the outside world. For Selma, born in America and raised by Iraqi-Lebanese-Palestinian parents in Lebanon, this disconnect began when she moved to the United States to obtain her master’s degree. Like many newly matriculated students, upon arriving at TC, Selma experienced fear and a feeling of being out of place. Although she holds an American passport, she grew up in Lebanon so she felt like an international student, which ultimately led to feelings of isolation. “I felt frustrated—and I know a lot of people feel frustrated—but I was frustrated for a year and I’m usually someone who tries to translate that frustration into something, and I think that’s what I tried to do with In Fluency.”

It was these shared feelings of frustration and disconnection that brought Selma and the other co-founders of In Fluency together. “We wanted a name that was catchy and that captured the idea of understanding different cultures. […] When you’re fluent in a language, you can begin to understand the culture, so that’s where the name came from. When you’re fluent, you can influence, but only after you understand it.” Selma describes In Fluency as a space for understanding psychology on two levels—the individual and the big picture. In Fluency’s goal is to examine what is happening in other countries and what an individual can do to respond. “We’re talking about countries like Palestine, Kashmir, and Myanmar, where it’s not very easy to do anything.”

As she looks toward the future and her impending graduation in December 2017, Selma is working through the struggle that she says many international students face—does she invest herself in In Fluency at TC or does she redirect her attention back home? One thing that may sway her is whether or not In Fluency can initiate changes in the culture of the Psychology Counseling Program here at TC.

By: Melanie Cooke

Editors: Heidi Liu Banerjee & Blessing Nuga

Michelle YoungHwa Chang
, M.S., Ed.M, is a second-year doctoral candidate studying under the supervision of Dr. Erika Levy in the Department of ‌Communication Sciences and Disorders. Their research team is piloting a treatment program for children with Cerebral Palsy that have developed dysarthria, difficult or unclear articulation of speech that is otherwise linguistically normal. Michelle is in the process of developing her thesis to expand this treatment to bilingual children. 

Mrs. YoungHwa Chang’s resume is not only impressive; it also tells the story of how she found her passion for speech pathology. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley, Michelle moved to Boston to work at Boston Children’s Hospital as a research assistant in a cognitive neuroscience lab that studied child dyslexia. It was the speech pathologists in the lab—who demonstrated the importance of combining treatment research with clinical practice—that sparked her interest in speech pathology. After obtaining two master’s degrees—in Education at Harvard and in clinical Speech Pathology at MGH Institute of Health Professions—Michelle joined forces with Dr. Levy, whom she had wanted to work with since her time at Boston Children’s. 
Mrs. YoungHwa Chang hopes to continue research on children with dysarthria by examining whether the current treatment protocol can be generalized, or tailored, to bilingual and multilingual children; as an Korean-English bilingual herself, she plans to begin with this population:  
“I think treatment research is one of the most important research that we need to be doing because there hasn’t been a lot of research done on speech treatment for children with cerebral palsy. If clinical practices are not evidence-based, then it’s difficult to know whether therapies are being done correctly. This is the area where I’d like to contribute as a researcher. Also, there are so many children that speak more than one language in this country, and we need to be able to tailor our therapy to fit these kids’ needs. So I’d like to take the research a step further and work with bilingual children, and to see how treatment affects both languages.”
This is ambitious work, and it’s through the support of her research team, and Dr. Levy, that Michelle finds confidence and motivation to look internationally: “I’m at that stage, looking for collaborators in Korea. If there hadn’t been other people in the lab who had collected data in other countries in the past, I don’t think I would’ve been able to even think about doing this…. I love that though we [lab members] all speak different languages, we are ultimately interested in doing treatment research with individuals who are bilingual or who speak a language other than English.”