International Mother Language Day celebrated at the College
The College’s 2010-11 enrolment statistics showed that the geographical diversity of students on the Hill included 45 states and 67 countries. With countries such as Cameroon (with 279 living languages), China (296) and Mexico (297), represented on the Hill, there is a wide range of linguistic diversity. Regardless of the fact that not all of these languages are brought to the College, this international representation brings a lot of diversity to campus.
In November 1999, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Feb. 21 to be International Mother Language Day. The Director General of UNESCO explained, “The language of our thoughts and our emotions is our most valuable asset. Multilingualism is our ally in ensuring quality education for all, in promoting inclusion and in combating discrimination.”
On the Hill, the community has been making steps and strides to uphold the need and desire for linguistic diversity by offering language and area studies as well as establishing the Language Resource Center (LRC). Jason Parrett ’12, a Russian and economics double major, said, “Language is part of what defines cultures; knowing a language gives a better, well-rounded perspective and allows us to function on the global stage.” Liam Connell ’15 agreed, acknowledging that being at the College allowed him to step out of his comfort zone of white maleness. “This is not the only way the world looks. There are so many ways to look at the world,” he said.
Renzo Moyano ’14, an environmental policy major noted, “More diversity equals more perspectives and hence a better context and picture when talking about and dealing with international conflict.”
International students greatly contribute to this dynamic of language and culture. Yiyi ‘Ness’ Dong ’14 is a native of China and a language assistant for the Chinese department here. “The students are genuinely interested in the language and want a deeper understanding of the culture which is rooted in centuries of history,” she attested.
However, Mduduzi ‘Dan’ Langwenya ’14, from Swaziland notes that the College still has quite a distance to go to fully incorporate diversity in its day-to-day life. He states that regardless of the awareness and sensitivity toward diversity, “English is the status quo on campus, naturally, but everyone should be allowed to freely contribute to the community without feeling judged on the basis of their accent or their grammar or pronunciation. If something or someone is different from them, people should make more of an effort to understand them [rather] than disregard without a second thought.”
The International Club (I-Club), the body of students dedicated to ensuring that international diversity is truly a part of Colby culture, hosts activities and events throughout the school year to raise cultural awareness. Hiya Islam ’15 from Bangladesh and vice president of I-Club believes that International Mother Language Day is a “perfect opportunity to create some noise, spread awareness, bring cultures together. The gap between nationals of the U.S. and non-nationals needs to go. So this is step one to integration.” She strongly believes that one of the first steps to appreciating each other’s cultures and backgrounds is to get to know each other. She hopes International Mother Language Day will spark engaging conversations.