Weeklong celebration of culture, cuisine and calligraphy proves popular with students

National Foreign Language Week fun

Partway through a Japanese cooking demonstration on March 6, students briefly turned their attention to the camera before resuming one of several delicious lessons during UMSL’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week. (Photos by Tiffany Seipel)

An atmosphere of peace permeated Clark Hall 527 one recent afternoon as Amy White and a group of her peers crowded around a conference table filled with brushes, ink and paper.

Japanese calliraphy session at UMSL

While some UMSL students slowly wrote their names in Japanese under the guidance of faculty member Keiko Ueda during a March 9 calligraphy session, others in attendance, including Xiaofan Wu, composed whole poems.

“I don’t have any artistic talent, but I feel like I do during calligraphy,” said White, a student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “It’s one of the reasons why I want to learn Japanese. It’s also very calming.”

Pursuing a minor in the language along with her nursing degree at UMSL, White took the opportunity to practice writing and memorizing the kanji characters that are already part of her course work.

For many others in the room, though, the task at hand was completely new. With patience and encouragement, Assistant Teaching Professor of Japanese Keiko Ueda demonstrated the basics of Japanese calligraphy and helped those unfamiliar with it express their own names using the writing form.

The gathering was just one of more than a dozen campus events organized by UMSL’s Department of Language and Cultural Studies in celebration of National Foreign Language Week March 6 to 9. An annual effort on campus, this year’s festivities drew especially big crowds.

Taste of Latin America plate

Last week’s popular Taste of Latin America featured mate, mole and guacamole.

“I would say this week was a great success,” said staff member Tiffany Seipel. “Many students participated in multiple events, learning about many different cultures ranging from Chinese, Japanese and German to French and Spanish. It was a time where all of the different cultures and nationalities across campus joined together to celebrate.”

Delicious and wide-ranging foods were a centerpiece of many of the events, and freshman Sami Rishmawi, who particularly enjoyed the breakfast featuring German and French cuisine, didn’t see anything wrong with that.

“Free food is the ultimate peacemaker – just saying,” said Rishmawi, a psychology major who is also taking German classes. “Through the events this week I’ve seen people from different foreign language courses coming together to experience a particular culture. Meeting up with people who are learning Japanese and talking to them about what I’ve learned in German was pretty cool.”

Biology major and Japanese minor Eric Eggers was one of them. Eggers called the entire celebration “a positive week” for hanging out and enjoying stress-free activities, whether it was food, demonstrations or films.

“My favorite event was probably the Japanese cooking demo,” he said. “The okonomiyaki was delicious, and the Japanese students were very kind in helping us make our own onigiri. My favorite part, though, was just how talkative everyone was. It felt like being surrounded by friends.”

Cooking demonstration

Students crowded into Clark Hall 527 to learn how to make onigiri (rice balls) and okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. Sponsored by the Department of Language and Cultural Studies, UMSL’s National Foreign Language Week festivities also included explorations of Chinese, French, German and Latin American culture and cuisine.

Eggers added that UMSL’s diverse campus population is one of the main reasons he chose the university. National Foreign Language Week brought students from many different backgrounds together, leaving everyone involved with “deeper cultural insight.”

One of the films that students and other interested campus community members watched during the week was “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” which chronicles the history of the Red Army Faction, a German terrorist organization. German major Seth Huntington said he found the film particularly pertinent.

“The politics of the time reflect well on our own in many ways, and being given a different perspective on many still-very-relevant issues really makes one rethink their own position on things,” Huntington said.

He also appreciated the obvious sense of unity among the Department of Language and Cultural Studies during the week, along with the way the festivities attracted a “myriad” of UMSL students, from a wide variety of disciplines, equally eager to celebrate different languages and cultures.

Another German major, Peter Burnham, said he was especially pleased to see languages celebrated all week. In his experience, people don’t always seem to appreciate the amount of work required to learn a new language or cooperate in a new society.

“And from the cultural perspective, it’s important to expose people to these other ways of living,” he added. “It’s very easy to miss out on something when you don’t know it exists.”

The UMSL Experience

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