By Mary Kate Knorr, The Daily Iowan
As local communities such as Iowa City become more globally diverse, university officials say foreign-language education becomes critical.
“When you study a foreign language … you learn about yourself in the context of foreign cultures,” said Steve Ungar, a University of Iowa professor of cinema/comparative literature.
This year, the UI held its first Adopt-A-Language Fair on Nov. 11 to kick-off International Education Week by promoting foreign languages less commonly studied by university students.
“We sort of envision that International Education week is an opportunity [to promote] … opportunities that are available to students, faculty, and community members to be an active participant in the world,” said Joan Kjaer, the strategic communications officer for UI International Programs.
One of these opportunities, she said, is the chance to study foreign languages.
“You learn more about your own culture when you study another culture because it’s as though you are looking at your own from the outside,” Ungar said.
At the fair, students were able to get a glimpse of languages. The fair also gave students resources they could turn to in order to learn the languages, Kjaer said.
International Education Week is a combined effort of the U.S. Departments of Education and State to encourage teaching about foreign cultures and create better dialogue between the United States and countries in other parts of the world.
Officials say the increasing diversity among the UI student population should inspire students to explore international cultures and languages.
This year, the university saw 484 first-time international students, a record for the school.
Dianne Day, the chairwoman of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, said foreign languages are important on a local level.
“One thing that I think is [easy] to do in Iowa City in harder economic times is lose a focus on foreign languages,” she said, noting the local concerns officials have in regard to Iowa City’s international community.
There is always room for improvement in providing a comfortable atmosphere for international students, both at the university and in the public school systems, Day said.
Programs will be held across the nation this week to immerse Americans in a more global environment and connect people from all over the globe, according to the International Education Week website.
The university also began the national week on Nov. 11 when the second International Impact Award was presented to Trudy Huskamp Peterson, a former U.S. archivist, founding executive director of the Open Society Archives, and director of archives and records management for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Kjaer said it is important for members of the Iowa City community to be more involved in the world beyond Iowa.
“You represent yourself when you meet new people, but you also represent our country,” she said. “The idea [behind International Education Week] is that everyone is more and more aware every day that we live in a big world, and we are no longer unconnected.”