Hidden Figure of LBCC

What or who would you need if this sentence was written in a different language?

On our campus there is a rare treasure who acts as an operating system/translator here at LBCC, Julia Larson .

Larson worked as a translator in Canada, the United States, Norway and Tanzania. She lived in the same house her whole life and later graduated from Philomath High School.  

Next Larsen went on to travel the world and got the opportunity to develop a written language to be used to translate a large body of literature.

Larson is also an advisor for some ambassador students on campus. One of her students, Qi Hu, said, “She is really patient and has given me good advise as a supervisor concerning how to set up steps to meeting a goal. Second I think she is very task/goal oriented because every time I’m confused about what she wants me to do or accomplish, she can always give me a very clear goal or task to focus my energy/efforts on. I really like it. The third one is hardworking. She and Kim have a very busy google calendar. There are over 100 unread emails daily and they have to switch to many different systems to manage the international student’s immigration status and academic records. So that is a lot, she is very hardworking.”

Larsen met her college sweetheart, Viggo, while studying linguistics at Trinity Western University in Canada. Julia worked hard studying in the summers as well and was able to finish her four-year degree in just three years. After the wedding, they lived in Norway, on an island named Husoy (House Island), for a couple years. They had their son Daniel there.  

It was the plan all along that the Larsens would move and work in Africa in language development. In 2008 they moved to Tanzania with a 1-year-old and went to language school in Swahili. Tanzania has about 130 languages, most of them are not written yet. One of those groups/tribes had asked their organization to help them develop a written language, body of literature and everything. So as an operating system or translator they stepped in to fill the gap.

The Larsens were sent out into the bush to start that project. They lived in the bush, a rural undeveloped area of land, for two years. In 2010 they returned to Norway to give birth to their daughter Rebekka.  

After a year the Larsens returned to Tanzania, running the same project. Another year and a half passed while they made great progress. This time around they lived in a native home in the midst of the people they served. They were fortunate enough to have electricity, however no running water was accessible, paying a neighbor to bring large containers to their home by bicycle twice a week was necessary.

The water was put through two purification processes, especially during the rainy season when the water was muddy. First it was strained through a sheet in their kitchen, then it was put through a filter that removed large traces of fluoride and other geographical contaminants that would turn the children’s teeth brown.

The Larsens made good progress with their adventure of creating a new writing system. They began by creating a written alphabet. People were very involved and engaged from the community, it was a joy and definitely mutually beneficial. The Larsens had planned to stay for 20 to 30 years, but ended up having to return home to Oregon due to health issues. It was a very highly stressful situation in Africa for many years.

“It got to a place where we just needed to be here, at home near our family. Rebekka was two and Daniel was five in 2012 when we moved back home to the United States. We sort of settled back in. I got a job at OSU in International Admissions and worked there for a few years. I was ready for a change, I wanted more variety in my work. I started working here at LB last August, it was a good fit.  I really like working with all the students, it’s my favorite part and I really like the fact that I can live here in Oregon. I really enjoy having advising appointments and being able to help them. I have lived in other places, but I think Oregon is the best place in the entire world, this is where I want to be. However, I like being able to still have contact with the International Students,” said Larsen.

Mbugwe is the name of the written language that this brave family had the privilege to translate. It was wonderful to take the different accents and sounds and transcribe them onto paper. Up until the seventh grade the children in Tanzania are schooled in Swahili, from then on their education is in English. This creates a huge gap in education for the children as they struggle to learn. The students simply need a translator to care enough to make a difference.

This amazing adventure made Larsen thankful and strong. If you ever need her help, she can be found in Red Cedar Hall 203 A, “I think she is hardworking and likes cultures because she has lived abroad in Norway before,” said My Tran of Vietnam.  

Larsen radiates the meaning of this popular quote by Mother Teresa, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”

At a glance:

International Advisor for LBCC: Julia Larsen

Age: 34

Education: Degree in Linguistics from Trinity Western University

Family: Children, Daniel 11, Rebekka 8;  and spouse, Viggo Larsen 43


A Comparison of the United States of America and Tanzania
United States of America Tanzania
Official Language/Lingua Franca No official language, but English is most prevalent Swahili, English, and Arabic
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Purchasing  Power Parity (PPP) $19.36 trillion $162.8 billion USD
GDP Official Exchange Rate $19.36 trillion $51.61 billion USD
GDP Real Growth Rate 2.2% 6.5 percent USD
GDP Per Capita $59,500 $3,300 USD
Adult Obesity Rate 36.2 percent 8.4 percent
Underweight Children under 5 years old 0.5 percent 13.7 percent
Education Spending 5 percent of GDP 3.5 percent of GDP
Education Life Expectancy 17 years 8 years
Dependency Ratio (percent of population under 14 or over 65) 51.2 percent 93.4 percent


US                                          vs                                  Tanzania

  • Rich Poor
  • Chicken = 1 hour’s work $10                              Chicken = 3-4 days work $10
  • Houses                                                                Houses made of mud and sticks
  • Standard of living                                                Cars are rare, subsistence farming
  • Relationship/friendship                                       Depend on each other
  • structure vs. individualistic                                 more relational
  • Corruption is much less open                            Govt. corruption – bribes were norm
  • Religion + Values Traditional                              50/50 Muslim/Christian
  • Western, enlightenment                                     No drinking

Values & Judeo – Christian Values                              Use of traditional “shamans”


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