Portrait of a Komencanto: Our Interview with Christabel

The most interesting part of travel is always the people you meet along the way. Our time in Wroclaw has once again proven this to be true. Today’s post will be the first profile in a series intended to spotlight a few of the many diverse and interesting Esperantists we have met throughout our journey.

Today we had the chance to interview Christabel, an Internacia Junulara Kongreso participant who came all the way from Edinburgh. A komencanto (beginner) who learned Esperanto using the websites Duolingo and Lernu!, this is her first time at the IJK.


Christabel is a bit of a globetrotter, who counts traveling as one of her favorite pastimes, along with reading, Quidditch, and learning languages. She hails from Devon, a pretty, rural region in the south west of England. Her experiences growing up in a small town led her to develop an appreciation for adventure and a desire to travel and learn new languages.

Christabel stumbled upon the world of Esperanto while using Duolingo to learn German. She was intrigued by the Esperanto’s origin and history, and decided to learn more. Not long after, she attended an conference of British Esperantists, and eventually decided to travel to the IJK.

Christabel finds both the practical and ideological aspects of the Esperanto movement appealing. She enjoys the opportunities for international communicates that a knowledge of Esperanto provides, and the more general challenges of language learning. She also likes the way that Esperanto evens the playing field for language learners. As a native English speaker, she feels that she sometimes experiences an unfair advantage when speaking to others who learned English as a second or third language. Because Esperanto is very rarely one’s first language, and because it is comparatively easy to learn to fluency, Christabel likes how communication in Esperanto is unusually equal and accessible. She also has a personal connection to the language. She has Polish heritage, and her grandparents experienced much of the difficult political atmosphere that inspired the language’s founder. She appreciates Esperanto’s goal to improve communication and ease tensions between diverse groups.

We asked Christabel about her thoughts on the current status of the Esperanto movement, based on her experiences at home and at the IJK, and she had several insights and ideas for improvement. Christabel learned Esperanto primarily online, although she says she would have liked to have had more opportunities for in-person practice. There have been very few Esperantists where she has lived, so meeting with other for practice and conversation has been difficult. She also noted that many of the Esperantists she has met have been significantly older than her, often middle aged or retired. She thinks that youth outreach is the most important element required for the growth of Esperanto today. In order to attract more young people, she suggests investing more in clubs at universities, and offering more opportunities for young people to learn together and socialize. Most young people interested in Esperanto are likely to be university students, so it is a natural place to advertise and offer learning opportunities. She said that her local organization expressed hesitance to invest in university programs, as they worried that students wouldn’t stay involved after graduation, but she argued that without significantly more outreach to student populations, it will be difficult to sustain the movement.

Following her time at the IJK, Christabel plans to study politics, philosophy, economics, and Polish language for one year in Krakow. Then she hopes to travel to China, where she will teach English, and hopefully attend more Esperanto congresses.



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