Around the World event promotes cultural awareness, discussion

Allison Work

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This week, students may have noticed several different multicultural events happening around campus. This is all part of Around the World in Five Days, sponsored by the Language Learning Center (LLC). The week-long event, in its second year on campus, aims to bring information about different world cultures to students and promote connections around campus.

The event is manifested in several different ways around campus. Each weekday, two to four countries are highlighted. Lunchtime table conversations occur in the LLC in Olin Hall with table captains and native speakers.

“If you’re interested in any of these countries and you want to talk to people who’ve actually been there or are from there, this is a great time to come,” said Language Learning Center Coordinator Jennifer Mouat.

Table captains who have lived or studied in the various countries volunteered to lead discussions.

“Students come and sit around the round tables and chat,” said Mouat. “Anyone’s welcome. It’s a very informal conversation about really whatever anyone’s interested in.”

Mouat generally tries to get two to three table captains for each country, but had as many as nine volunteers for some countries this year. The conversations are entirely up to the people present, but topics can range from studying in a certain country to working or informally traveling there.

Tuesday’s conversation, a discussion of Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania, had about 15 attendees who participated in a free-form discussion spanning things to do in each country to experience with the language and interacting with citizens. The table captains were a mix of international students and students who had studied abroad in Kenya and Tanzania for a semester.

“If we’ve got a lot of people you can get a lot of different views,” said Mouat.

The discussions promote interest, and questions are encouraged.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for people to get to know these cultures,” said Vanesa Vega Dorado, the Spanish native speaker. “Whether they’re thinking of going to study abroad, it’s a really cool way to get to know people who have studied there and the native speakers.”

Table captains share expertise or general opinions with lunch attendees.

“The native speakers [are] involved with the lunches each day,” said Vega Dorado. “Each of us will be whichever country we’re from. We’re there answering questions about the cultures and how it is to live in the country and to study in that country.”

In addition to the lunchtime events, several language interest houses hold evening open houses, and the week will culminate Friday afternoon and evening with a celebration and rugby-watching at the Glover Alston Center.

“Last year I lived in the French house my first semester before becoming an RA,” said Zoe Ingerson, the RA of the Spanish Interest House. “We did cookie decorating and [it was] just a low-pressure way to learn about the houses, get to know the residents and the native speakers and the RAs and just talk about it.”

Mainly, the event is an educational one.

“It’s a really good opportunity for different parts of campus to work together,” said Ingerson. “As the RA of a language house, I feel like [Vega Dorado] is really involved with the LLC but I feel kind of removed from that.”

Ingerson said the event is a good way to tie the LLC together with Off Campus Studies and different people around campus in a way that they’re not normally connected. ┬áThe event started last year as an attempt to promote intercultural interaction.

“One of the first things that I wanted to do was build bridges to other areas on campus with similar goals,” said Mouat, who started in her position as LLC coordinator last August. “Of course, one of the first things I thought of was the Intercultural Center.”

Representatives from both centers sat down and brainstormed ways to bring cultural awareness to campus, coming up with the idea of a multicultural celebration.

“The idea was to promote a celebration all over campus and show interconnections,” said Mouat.

Last year, the event focused on native speakers’ countries, as well as Africa as an entire continent and the United Kingdom.

This year, the LLC and the Intercultural Center have chosen to highlight Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania, as well as China, Japan, France, Spain, Germany and New Zealand.

Mouat stressed the informality of the week’s events, but encouraged students interested in studying abroad to get formal information from the Off-Campus Studies office.

“This is informal conversation around the countries,” said Mouat. “It’s a good starting point if you’re interested or thinking about going. This would be a good group of people to chat with.”

Mouat’s main goal is to bring awareness to students.

“My underlying goal is just to get students in the door of the Language Learning Center so they know we’re here and so they see what we have to offer,” said Mouat. “And I do want to highlight that this is something Whitman values. We’re very interested in international connections and intercultural discussion.”