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The Power of Words: Meet Jenny Hochstein

January 27, 2024

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but words are worth more than gold to our newest member of the Big Ocean Women communications team.

Jenny Hochstein lives with her husband and five children in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. As a child of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong, her native language was Cantonese, and she happily interacted with her grandmother, who spoke Hoisin-wa, another Chinese dialect.

She began learning English at age 3 with her aunts, uncles, father, and sister and more fully when she began attending school at age 5. She found that learning a new language came very easily for her. In 7th grade she decided to begin attending French School with her friends. This immersion program, where all school subjects were taught in French, was a challenge for her. Her persistence and commitment to excellence carried her through a few difficult years until things clicked for her.

“By the time I was in my fourth year, fifth year, and sixth year, French was just fun. We would make jokes in French. We would make songs in French or go out to French restaurants and have French field trips. It was just really fun, and I actually really appreciated how hard it was.”

Jenny knew the language was well-integrated when she began dreaming in French! She later came to realize that knowing different languages wasn’t just a fun accomplishment, it enabled her to connect with people in more meaningful ways.

“It wasn’t until maybe 10 years later in my life when different friends came into my friend circles and they were from Quebec or different French areas and they didn’t have any other people to connect with. So then I’d start speaking with them [in French], and it was almost like this amazing sense of relief that they had in their eyes. Like, I can actually share my heart with somebody and they’ll get what I’m saying. It was just such a tender experience to be able to be a point of contact for someone, for them to speak their mother tongue. …Everybody else only hears their accent when they try to speak English, and they don’t really understand what they’re saying, because they can’t really say what they want to say because it’s not their mother tongue. But when they did speak to me and I could hear them, they just had such a beautiful soul and I could just feel so much of who they were because I could understand them speaking.”

This special gift of words and language goes both ways. Jenny’s friend Janet learned Cantonese on a church mission to Hong Kong, and even today it is deeply meaningful to Jenny to have a friend speak to her in her mother tongue.

Jenny also took Spanish classes in high school and shared with me the impact that had on her.

“I love Spanish. I love how phonetic it is. I love how expressive it is. I love all the intricacies and the culture. It was really empowering to realize the connection that when you learn one language, it isn’t just an investment in that language. It’s an investment in the whole global human family. You learn one language and it leads to being able to learn another and another and another. And I think this is a theme for my life….I feel like the language learning was just a very concrete way to have an in on being able to understand and be on the same page as another person, like taking the time to cultivate my heart of compassion, to be able to want to understand someone else’s heart and to become skilled enough in the nuances of someone else’s language, culture, traditions and things so that you can have this, like on the same page kind of place.”

Jenny also uses words in powerful ways in writing (doing therapeutic journaling), in speaking (on her podcast “Word of the Year”), and in guiding yoga and meditation classes each week. We look forward to the beautiful strands of gold she will weave as she shares her experiences and wisdom with the Big Ocean Women community.

Photo credit: Laura Roberts