UNCA offers language and culture

by: Shanee Simhoni – Staff Writer – ssimhoni@unca.edu

UNC Asheville offers its students a variety of experiences in foreign languages and cultures in the classroom, as well as a large array of multicultural and international organizations, but some faculty members and students want to see more participation, according to students and staff.

“Learning a foreign language not only has potential career advantages, but the advantage of accessibility as well,” said Katherine Worley, a senior German student at UNCA.  “Broadening the sphere of people that you can communicate with, as well as an appreciation for your own language, which in turn provides further accessibility to one’s mother tongue.”

Learning a second language improves overall academic performance, problem-solving skills and opens up opportunities to communicate with people from other parts of the world, according to The Benefits of Second Language Study conducted by officials with the Connecticut State Department of Education in 2007.

“I wish that people would learn more about other cultures, because honestly, we have a lot of ethnocentric attitude in our world today, no matter how much the public and the press say that we are one or racism doesn’t exist anymore,” said Noor Siddiqui, a junior literature student and member of the Muslim Student Association at UNCA.

Learning about other cultures leads to more awareness of others’ beliefs, as well as a deeper appreciation of one’s own, said Nicole Barnes, a sociology and Africana studies student at UNCA and secretary of MSA.

“Our majors and minors are prepared to do a wide variety of careers and occupations when they graduate,” said Lora Holland, the chair of the classics department at UNCA.  “The sky’s the limit, really, because learning Greek and Latin is not really the easiest thing in the world, but it’s a lot of fun and really prepares you well for lifelong learning.”

Learning foreign languages enables one to manipulate language more deftly, including expanding cognitive flexibility, creativity and solving complex problems at an earlier age, according to officials with the Connecticut State Department of Education.

“Considering the world we currently live and work in, it is nearing the point of being imperative to learn a second or third language,” said Worley, a Gastonia native.

In addition to offering classes in German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, Latin and Biblical Hebrew, UNCA also has numerous extracurricular organizations, according to Holland, who first came to UNCA to teach in 2002.

“I do know that UNCA has an impressive amount of students involved in programs and organizations involving the foreign languages, which is something I love about our university,” Worley said.

Jinhua Li, Asian studies lecturer, and Lei Han, new media department chair and associate professor, will lead a study abroad trip to China this summer, according to Surain Subramaniam, the director of interdisciplinary studies, international studies and Asian studies.

“Cluster eight is the Greek Experience, and one of our faculty members, Dr. Mills, she and a colleague from the math department take students every other summer to Greece and Turkey,” Holland said.

Asian Students in Asheville, the Black Student Association, Hermanos Orgullosos en Las Americas, the International Student Association, MSA, the Classical Society, French Club and Hillel constitute the multicultural organizations UNCA offers to students.

“Other campuses in the UNC system often have a much larger student body to draw from, so for us being the size we are, we have a good proportion of students who take our courses and participate in our activities, so we’re very happy about that,” Holland said.

UNC Chapel Hill, whose student population is almost 10 times that of UNCA, has a broad array of cultural clubs and organizations, including the Carolina Indian Circle, the Carolina Irish Association, the Korean Association of Students and Scholars, Christians United for Israel and the Carolina Capoeira Club (Portuguese), according to officials with UNC Chapel Hill Student Life. UNCA faculty, however, think the university offers a competitive amount of foreign language opportunities.

“We offer six Chinese language courses, from elementary through advanced Chinese, as well as two content courses on Chinese literature and cinema,” Subramaniam said.

Appalachian State University offers courses in French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Latin, Portuguese and Russian, according to officials with the Appalachian State University Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. UNCA students agree UNCA offers an impressive number of foreign languages compared to other, larger universities.

“In comparison to other schools within the UNC system and outside the system as well, I would personally say that UNCA has an exceptional foreign language department,” Worley said.

Although small, UNCA has a group of talented foreign language professors, according to Worley.

“I have had a great experience here with the foreign language department. I had a great Spanish teacher,” said Barnes.  “I am personally interested in learning sign language as a second language and think that would make a great addition to the UNC Asheville curriculum.”

The United States has a general disinterest in teaching foreign languages to its students, a skill that becomes more necessary as the world becomes increasingly multiethnic, according to the study conducted by the Connecticut State Department of Education.

“We also have the Classical Society, which just this past year has merged with the Ancient Gardens Club to have a place for students interested in any aspect of the ancient world,” Holland said.  “We’d just like to have more students.  A lot of students aren’t really aware that the ancient languages fulfill the foreign language requirement.”

Exposure to other cultures, especially their languages, promotes awareness and a healthy, open-minded mindset, especially if taught in a small setting where the possibility of one-on-one conversation and interaction becomes possible, according to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s study.

“If we took the time to understand another person’s viewpoint or cultural background, only then will we truly get a glimpse of who they are as individuals and how we’re not far much different from them,” said Siddiqui, a Pakistan native.

Although UNCA’s student body shows interest in attending events hosted by the university’s multicultural organizations, they do not show the same enthusiasm for actually joining those organizations and learning other languages, Barnes said.

According to faculty, interest in language and culture enriches the student experience.

Learning about different cultures and languages helps in numerous aspects in life, and students do not always realize that, Holland said.  However, those who choose to be involved in the foreign language programs enjoy them, she said.

“Between the several different professors that I have had over the course of the last several years, I have learned more than I had ever expected to learn.  Each professor has had a unique approach to their teaching methods, which I found over the years, to be very useful,” said Worley, who plans on utilizing her passion for German by becoming a translator.

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