I applaud the observations made by Caitlin Campbell in her recent ME article, “More Languages Needed for International Studies.” As Director of the IS program, I would like to add that distinctive aspects of our International Studies (IS) program include both its interdisciplinary nature and the language proficiency requirement that asks students to pursue a single language through the 300-level of competency. As Ms. Campbell points out, language and culture are intricately related – if we hope to encourage genuine encounters in a globalized 21st Century, linguistic acuity is certainly at the heart of that project.
In supporting the Study Abroad Programs of the Mount, IS has tried to tie the experiential with the academic, providing students the opportunity to utilize their language skills in specific Study Abroad venues – and to that end, the Foreign Language Department has been a good partner! We have long had a Costa Rica summer experience, which builds on Spanish language skills, and have established a summer program in Spain; there is a summer program in France, which provides opportunities for students of French; and the Foreign Language Department developed an Italian major in response to the need for Italian fluency to complement our Study Abroad Program in Florence. But as Ms. Campbell makes clear, the new realities of the world facing our students demand a reassessment.
Over the past ten years, I have had a number of students seeking to study the very languages Ms. Campbell references: Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. We are not talking about hordes of students, but enough that suggest we should be considering options. Both Gettysburg and McDaniel Colleges offer Arabic and Chinese . . . but that is a tough commute for Mount students, some of whom do not have cars; and Russian is not offered anywhere in our proximity. While establishing new positions in the Foreign Language Department to enhance our offerings would be a laudable long-term goal, that is probably not possible at present, given our size and financial limitations.
HOWEVER, there should be viable alternatives in this age of technology! Can we not contract with institutions that would allow our students to engage in an ONLINE experience with ongoing classes with their students? If memory serves, we outfitted one of our classrooms in the AC about ten years ago with this capability – why not use this? I’m certain that with energy and creative thinking we can come up with options! Ms. Campbell is right – if we are to retain relevance in the 21st Century, we need to “be offering languages that put Mount students at the forefront of international issues – Chinese, Russian, Arabic.”
Dr. J. Kristen Urban