Esperanto: A Child’s Window on the World
by Patricia Egan

When I was a fifth grade student, a new language entered my life. That language was Esperanto, and, over the past three decades,  this language has made a lasting impact on my education, in the broadest sense.  From fostering a facility with learning foreign languages to opening up parts of the world where few Americans ever venture, Esperanto has made an indelible impression in many positive ways.

My elementary school was, by most appearances, quite average for a nondescript  suburban community.  For a few years, however,  an innovative principal, Dr. Edwin Feldman, was  at our school, and Dr. Feldman was, among other qualities, an Esperantist.  He introduced elective subjects to our school, and Esperanto was among the choices.  Frankly, it was my third choice; art and French were filled up.  The teacher, Miss Lavina Parsons,  was very nice, however, so we were not disappointed.

Esperanto classes launched our group into exchanging postcards, postage stamps, and friendly greetings among school children from all over the world almost from the start.   Given the much more complex vocabularies and grammar structures confronting our friends in the other language classes,  we budding Esperantists quickly acquired considerable facility in our new language.  We sang songs and learned about many different countries through our Esperanto textbook.  We even presented a self-produced play  for our classmates.  This initial experience in language learning boosted our confidence as we subsequently progressed to more traditional language studies such as French and Spanish  later on.

With the unfailing encouragement of Catherine and William Schulze, my Esperanto “parents”, I continued to participate in Esperanto  classes and related activities as  I grew up. In college, I convinced the University of California at Berkeley  to count my credits in Esperanto,  transferred from the summer courses at San Francisco State University, toward my College of Letters and Science requirements to receive my degree.  Mainly, I enjoyed the wonderful people, from all over the world, whom I met through Esperanto.

By  attending the Esperanto conferences in Sarajevo and Belgrade, I traveled through Eastern Europe BEFORE the cold war ended. As the tragic civil war in Bosnia appears on the evening news, I remember how nice the people I met there were to me and what a lovely town Sarajevo was.  I certainly didn’t speak Serbo-Croatian, and those who tried to practice their English with me really weren’t  very fluent.  We became friends through a mutually agreeable language - Esperanto.   I even remember defending the United States to a Polish  college student who, understandably, had never traveled outside the eastern block.  This was during the Viet Nam War, and the United States wasn’t viewed very favorably as the BBC broadcast reports of bombings, etc.  Yet, my command of Esperanto was more than sufficient to explain that many Americans,  especially college students, were opposed to the war, and to add that the United States offered many educational opportunities and freedom of speech to its citizens, freedoms and opportunities not always available elsewhere.  Our heated discussion was observed by other college-age people from countries as varied as Japan, Czechoslovakia, Britain, Germany, and Hungary.  I learned to think on my feet in Esperanto!

Many Esperantists are also interested in world peace and cooperation.  Through the educational Esperanto organization, U.E.A., I had the opportunity to become involved with the New York Office located directly across the street  from the United Nations.  There I met many thoughtful people from different countries brought together by their concern for international understanding.

Recently I had a discussion about Esperanto with a former boss, a Harvardian who suggested that we all might do well to communicate using the Queen’s English.  I asked him whether he had ever conversed with a Russian using the Queen’s English, and he had to admit that he had not.  I proudly let him know that I had conversed with Russians, among other nationals, using Esperanto.  He had to acknowledge that Esperanto  “works”.