No So Average Jane: The quest for a bilingual Big Sky
Ashley Valentini and her goal to help
Ashley Valentini is an energetic force in Big Sky – and determined to combat the “Big Sky brain drain.”
She speaks fluent Spanish, Italian and Japanese, has taught English in Japan, Spain and Indonesia and has worked with corporate clients both domestically and internationally to promote intercultural communication skills and multiculturalism.
When running an adult English language program in Boston a few years ago, she took a month off to snowboard out west. Based in Kellogg, Idaho during that time, she traveled to Big Sky.
“I fell in love with that mountain the first time I saw it,” she said of Lone Peak.
It was not long before she was packing her life away in Boston and heading to Big Sky.
“I love elk traffic jams as opposed to two hours in a tunnel in Boston. This morning I saw a fox, a moose, several mule deer and so many elk – instead of smelling farts on a train. I’m so in-love with that commute [from the mountain to the meadow],” she said.
She has been walking that line in her life – juggling her passion and her profession and is finding a way to pay her bills while discovering her place in the community – including installing gutters on homes in the Yellowstone Mountain Club.
“Working for Gallatin Valley Gutters has allowed [me] to experience the challenges that the construction industry is facing,” she said. “Challenges directly connected to linguistic and sociolinguistic barriers. Bridging language barriers creates a stronger and safer workforce in our increasingly diverse community.”
Her passion for snowboarding led her here. Her passion for teaching has the potential to help Big Sky flourish.
“I feel like there is a population of people in Big Sky who live in the shadows and need support. I feel morally obligated to help people,” she said. “I have a strong sense of empathy for people suffering from challenges brought on by communication barriers.”
In addition to installing gutters, she is also Spanish Program Coordinator at Discovery Academy.
“Luckily, Discovery Academy is on-board with this mission to promote a bilingual Big Sky,” she said. “I feel like there is a population of people in Big Sky who live in the shadows and need support.”
Intercultural communication skills and creating opportunities for professional growth can and should be a part of community development. She believes construction of the community center is a move in the right direction.
“People living in Big Sky right now have the unique opportunity to mold the future of our mountain town,” she said. “I think Big Sky is a thriving, flourishing and young community that can be a legitimate paradigm for how to create opportunities that promote multiculturalism.
I ask myself, ‘How can I contribute to this [community]?’ And I see a clear need for adult education.”
She said she has noticed that physical prowess is so respected by the Big Sky populace, but she feels there is no spotlight on academics.
“If an adult is interested in an educational enriching opportunity, they have to commute the canyon – which is daunting at best to program into your daily routine. My idea is to provide affordable and accessible educational opportunities to empower the community as a whole,” she said.
Learning another language has benefits beyond asking where the bathroom is or “ordering another beer while vacationing in Mexico.”
“It is scientifically proven that people who speak multiple languages have a higher level of cognitive acuity,” she said.
Those interested in classes can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org