The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

A look inside University language communities

Examining upshots of La Casa Bolívar, La Maison Française, Shea House, others

<p>Shea House is home to eight different East Asian or European language communities.</p>

Shea House is home to eight different East Asian or European language communities.

University language communities provide students with an opportunity for cultural immersion within Charlottesville. Each academic year, students apply to live in the house of their choice to further their studies of a particular language and culture.

Housing offerings

The University offers students interested in language and cultural immersion a variety of language-oriented communities. Students can choose to live in communities focusing mainly on Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese or Spanish, among others.

La Casa Bolívar, the Spanish House, opened its doors in 1980 and is now home to two dozen undergraduate students each academic year. Residents have the opportunity to practice and expand their knowledge of the Spanish language, earning academic credit in the process.

La Maison Française, the French House, opened in 1985 in an attempt to fulfill Thomas Jefferson’s expressed desire to provide francophone students with a residential community in which they could develop French language skills.

La Maison Française is currently home to 27 undergraduate students who have recently been granted the opportunity to earn academic credit for speaking French in the language community.

“This year is the first year that students living in the house have begun receiving graded academic credit for speaking French in the house,” French House Resident Advisor Arslan Zahid said.

Shea House is the University’s largest language house and annually the home to approximately 75 students, including students of each of the house’s eight languages, international students and heritage students who are proficient in a language but may not have a formal education in it.

Most commonly, residents speak Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Korean or Persian. A floor of the house is dedicated to each language, each with its own language assistant.

The German House is located within Bice House and acts as the center for German culture at the University. Six people live in the German House, including language advisor Maximiliane Wagner.

Until the 2014-2015 academic year, the Russian House was located on Cresap Road. Although this home no longer acts as the Russian House, the Russian department continues to host cultural events such as Russian Tea in an apartment in Bice House during the search for a new cultural center.

The immersion advantage

In offering students the opportunity to practice language skills beyond the classroom, language communities seek to enhance language skills. Through cultural immersion, language communities offer University students a more comprehensive language education.

“People live here voluntarily because they want to be immersed in an environment that will facilitate their learning of French language and culture, and I think that sort of intensive learning is integral to U.Va.'s academic mission,” Zahid said. “I think the mission and function of language houses fits right in with a university that prides itself in students taking ownership of their [academic] experience.”

Shea House Director Ahmad Obiedat said Shea House provides students with a method for more fully learning a foreign language.

“Language happens to be a more cumulative process — you don’t learn it like math or history,” Obiedat said. “It needs a venue of practice, and language houses are that field of practice. The goal is to be an immersion house, to complement what students are learning in class to make language an ongoing activity that extends after the class.”

In the French House, students are required to speak French in all public spaces.

“Usually, we try to speak French with everyone who is capable of speaking French,” said second-year College student Lexi Schubert, a French House resident. “We can speak English in our own private rooms, but my roommate and I still try to speak French if possible.”

Residents can attend community dinners at the house Monday through Thursday, which are opportunities to practice their speaking skills in a group setting. Although residents are expected to attend at least two dinners per week, all members the University community are welcome to attend these meals.

“I really enjoy having dinners every night. It's fun to speak French and to see everyone,” Schubert said. “We have dinners every night where almost everyone comes. They are a great opportunity to see everyone, to learn new French vocab words and to speak French.”

The language communities also provide residents language advisors and language assistants to aid in language learning and relevant coursework.

“We have a graduate language advisor, who is always a foreign exchange student from France, living in the house each year to facilitate French dialogue and learning,” Zahid said.

Language assistants often share the culture of the language they help students to learn, providing residents with a more human perspective on foreign cultures. Shea House Persian language assistant Gaisu Yari, a native Afghani, said her experience as a language assistant provides an outlet for cultural exchange.

“I like to be with people of different cultures,” Yari said. “I want to express my culture and why its important to me, [and] the culture [residents] live in is important to them too. [It] gives me the opportunity to interact with different cultures and languages.”

Community engagement

The language communities hold cultural events throughout the academic year. University students can attend these events to practice their language skills as well as engage with other members of the language community. For example, La Maison Française offers movie nights and various other social activities.

“On Wednesday nights, we have movie nights where we watch a French movie, and on Thursday there is the Pause-Café where we just hang out, drink coffee, speak and play French games,” Schubert said.

Language advisor Maximiliane Wagner organizes activities for the residents of German House, such as Oktoberfest and German Movie Night every Wednesday.

Despite many social offerings, language house representatives expressed a desire to be more open to the entire University community in the future. Yari stressed Shea House activities are not exclusively for Shea House residents.

“[I hope we] have better relationships with groups not involved with Shea House [in the future],” Yari said. “It’s a really good tool for the whole University to be involved in to introduce different cultures.”

In accordance with this goal, Shea House sometimes hosts events planned by the the Indian Student Association, East Asian Student Organizations and other CIOs. Some Shea House residents seek to continue such partnerships in the future.

“We have Indian dance and Indian music, a mystic Sufi band coming, and a Chinese dragon dance,” Obiedat said. “We’d like` to have more of these student associations be part of Shea House, given that we have the space and the targeted languages, so we’d like to have these students think of us as another Newcomb Hall.”

Wagner said the German house is dedicated to working towards creating a more inviting environment within the German House.

“We are not a closed community,” Wagner said. “We have an open house agreement, which means that the door to the German house is always open — literally — to anyone who wants to stop by and spend time in the German house. We hope to improve the access to the German house and make it easier for people just to stop by.”

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