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The Student Language Exchange introduces undergraduate students to languages and cultures that they do not have formal access to through their college curriculum. We are an exploratory learning community facilitating a culture exchange in which fluent speakers of languages not offered by colleges lead weekly language sections. In these language projects, students are exposed to language and culture in casual, yet structured, settings. We aim to pique student interest in underrepresented languages by encasing language instruction within a curriculum of cultural exploration.
Many people have asked us: Why the focus on language? Wouldn’t cultural seminars or lectures make the same impact? Our generation is facing a society that has adopted English as a global language. Learning other languages allows for deeper connections and more trustful relationships in political, commercial and community settings. As Rita Mae Brown once said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where people come from and where they are going.” Language is not only a pragmatic communication system, but it is also the key to deeper cultural understanding.
transforming the american university
In 2010, 95% of American college students enrolled in language classes were studying a European language. Universities strive to educate future leaders, but our global education is confined within a limited academic curriculum. How will that impact students as we leave to serve the world?
Launched in Spring 2012 at Brown University, the Student Language Exchange aims to remedy the systematic exclusion of world cultures on campuses. In our three semesters of existence, we have brought nine new languages to our campus. We do not duplicate existing language programs on campus, but instead identify and fill gaps in the Brown curriculum. Now, we're looking to adapt our model for other campuses and expand our potential for impact.
But we aren’t a band-aid, simply covering up the problem without addressing its root causes. The SLE is a first step toward breaking the cultural glass ceiling of higher education. We hypothesize that by supporting students in understanding and engaging with these cultures, they will start to build a buzz that will shake the established towers of Western thought and help us reach a new equilibrium of cultural representation.
sparking global engagement
A semester of learning about a culture is a wonderful first step, but what happens when the program closes? In order to address that problem, we are currently developing an “action project” initiative. Beginning next semester, participating students will spend the last few weeks of their experience drafting an action plan for continued engagement. These proposals can take the form of continued language study, related research or social justice work in the target region. Through peer-to-peer relationships, we aim to expand global awareness and discharge students that are eager to engage with typically underrepresented cultures. Through these action projects, the Student Language Exchange can act as a platform for change.
By mobilizing international students, we have the potential to educate, engage and empower American undergraduates to become active global citizens. Students learning from students, peers energizing peers, friends rallying friends— that’s what we’re about.