This Student Is Tapping An Underused Source for Language Lessons: Refugees

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Why you should care

Because Elise is young and changing lives across the globe — one language lesson at a time.

Every year, OZY gives 10 college students the opportunity to pursue their outstanding ideas and envisioned innovations with grants of up to $10,000. The OZY Genius Awards aim to support and celebrate the next Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Kopp as they write groundbreaking books, film thought-provoking documentaries, launch tomorrow’s industry-disrupting companies or create the next game-changing social movements. Applications for the 2018 OZY Genius Awards are now open — find more information here.

Last year, one of our honorees was Elise Shea, whose genius idea was a digital language-learning platform that connects students with refugee tutors. Since receiving her OZY Genius Award, Shea’s platform helped match 17 forcibly displaced tutors with college students. Here’s our profile of her from last year.


Elise Shea, “Speak to Me”

Over breakfast, 21-year-old Elise Shea, a sophomore majoring in international studies at Vassar College, often flips through the pages of The New York Times. The articles she has read about the recent refugee crisis and the images of refugees falling out of wooden boats struck a chord. Her solution: Speak to Me, a digital language-learning platform that lets refugee tutors teach foreign language skills to college students and receive a payout of about $5 per 30 minutes for each session. She thought it could be an effective way to “rethink the direction of humanitarian aid” while helping with the creation of “valuable transnational relationships.”

Raised in Indianapolis, Shea took a gap year between high school and college to perform in a professional ballet company, the Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida — fulfilling her dream to dance professionally before committing to her academic studies. While working in a multilingual setting, she began to study Spanish and continued her 13 years of French language studies. When Shea’s not learning a language, reading or dancing, she enjoys traveling. Some of her most memorable experiences include medical-mission trips to Haiti and a visit to a refugee camp in Greece.

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