Celebrating diversity in student cultural and linguistic backgrounds at MIT
The room was abuzz with lively conversations as nearly 70 students came together to take part in the “Heritage Meets Heritage” event on Oct. 27, organized by MIT Global Studies and Languages and co-sponsored by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) and Hermanas Unidas.
Students participated in small group conversations on a variety of topics addressing diversity of cultural heritage (their favorite, traditions, holidays, music) and questions such as heritage language identity, multilingualism and multiculturalism, perceptions of words in different languages, and communication nuances in different languages and cultures.
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Dean Agustin Rayo made a surprise visit, joining conversations and then giving a short impromptu speech on the importance of embracing one’s own multiculturalism, celebrating the diversity of cultural heritage at MIT, and seeing it as a place where we can all find a sense of belonging.
Games, jokes, and trivia contest question answers were met with laughter and applause. Trivia questions included:
● Where is the world’s largest Japanese community outside of Japan? (São Paulo, Brazil)
● What African country has Spanish as an official language? (Equatorial Guinea)
● What language do the Amish speak? (a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch)
● Which country has the largest Francophone population in Asia? (Vietnam)
The event concluded with a sampling of foods from around the world: empanadas, steamed bao buns, pão de queijo, baklava, madeleines, pocky, and more. An international music playlist served as a lively accompaniment to the conversations. Students also received a commemorative tote bag.
In their feedback after the event, students reported enjoying the chance to meet fellow language-learners, make new friends, participate in reflective conversations, and sample international food. First-year student Michelle Wang explained that the event was a welcome change of pace that allowed her to “sit and enjoy my time at MIT without the pressures of classes and assignments.” Junior Alayo O Oloko commented on the group conversations, saying “The discussion questions were also very interesting, and many of them I had not thought about much before.” Senior Toomas Tennisberg enjoyed meeting people from different cultures. He also enjoyed the games and trivia questions. “It was fun to learn new trivia, like the third-most spoken language in Massachusetts (Portuguese) and the location of the oldest continuously operating library in the world (Lisbon).” Sophomore Hazel Mann said, “The food was delicious, and I was very happy I got to eat food from different cultures. I really liked baklava.”
The event organizing team was led by Min-Min Liang, lecturer in Chinese, and involved other Global Languages instructors, including Mariana San Martín, lecturer in Spanish; Nilma Dominique, lecturer in Portuguese; and Maria Khotimsky, senior lecturer in Russian. The event was truly a chance to celebrate cultural diversity and to enjoy learning from each other. In response to students’ feedback, Global Languages plans to make “Heritage Meets Heritage” an annual tradition.