More than 700 high school students take part in World Languages Day celebration at Touhill

by | Sep 25, 2023

The Department of Language and Cultural Studies organized the event for the fourth time and drew students from 10 area high schools.
UMSL student Amber Teson tests the Spanish language skills of a high school student during a game of "Heads up, who am I?" as part of World Languages Day

University of Missouri–St. Louis student Amber Teson tests the Spanish language skills of a high school student during a game of “Heads up, who am I?” Friday morning as part of an event for World Languages Day. The Department of Language and Cultural Studies hosted more than 700 area high school students at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

The Terrace Lobby at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center was buzzing Friday morning with hundreds of area high school students packed in to play games and engage in other activities as part of the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ celebration of World Languages Day.

The students had opportunities to try their hands at origami, practice picking up beans with chopsticks or have their names written in Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Telegu. They could learn American Sign Language or test their language skills in games such as “Heads up, who am I?” and “Where Am I From?”

There were also tables upstairs set aside for conversations in French, German and Spanish and a scavenger hunt that sent them around campus.

Associate Teaching Professor Violaine White speaks with high school student during World Languages Day event for area high school students.

Associate Teaching Professor Violaine White speaks with high school students during World Languages Day event.

The Department of Language and Cultural Studies organized the event for the fourth time and had help from about 85 student volunteers as well as a few alumni and retired faculty members.

“We have a sort of a multifold intention,” said Sandra Trapani, who chairs the department and is a teaching professor of French. “We want them to come showcase their language skills, really be able to interact with students from other schools, interact with other teachers from other schools, interact with our students and with us, and hopefully showcase UMSL as well and build some enthusiasm about coming back here and continuing those studies at the next level.”

There were more than 700 students in attendance, marking the largest turnout to date. The students hailed from McCluer STEAM Academy, Duchesne, Liberty, Marquette, McCluer North, Northwest, Pattonville, Ritenour, Seckman and Timberland high schools.

Theresa Velazquez, a Spanish teacher at Duchesne, was happy to bring her students to the World Languages Day event for the first time. She’s long been involved in UMSL’s Advanced Credit Program and has heard about the event since it began, but this was the first year it fit with the school calendar.

The hands of students practicing folding origami paper during World Languages Day

Students practice folding origami paper as part of an activity for World Languages Day.

“I wanted them to get a chance to do some real language on a college campus and meet some other students, meet some college students and professors, and I think they did that,” Velazquez said. “They loved the K-Pop dancing. That surprised me. Our students all take Spanish and French, but they seem to gravitate towards languages they weren’t studying, but that’s OK. There are so many languages and cultures, and I’m glad they got to be exposed to that.”

James Muth was just as excited more than 70 students at McCluer STEAM Academy had the opportunity to participate on Friday.

“It gives them an opportunity to see how applicable world language is, not just for a future career but today,” said Muth, a former UMSL graduate student. “I’m always looking for things that are authentic or real to life. Not just make a menu, but create a menu, do a skit, then go to a restaurant. We do a lot of project-based learning.”

He was pleased to see so many of his students’ passports filled up with stickers as they took part in the scavenger hunt.

“I don’t want to put my students under an umbrella, but we are a highly competitive school,” Muth said. “In fact, we encourage competition.”

Many of his students are already dual enrolled at UMSL as they study Spanish in high school.

UMSL music student Rita Schien performs a German song on stage at the Touhill

UMSL music student Rita Schien performs a German song on stage in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall.

In addition to the activities in the lobby, the students gathered inside the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall, watched video skits recorded by some of their fellow students and heard vocal performances from UMSL music students Rita Schien and Vanessa Tessereau, singing in German and French, respectively.

They also heard from Andrew Balkansky, dean of UMSL’s College of Arts and Sciences, who encouraged them to continue their studies of foreign languages.

“I want to tell you speaking another language – you already know this – it’s super cool,” he said. “It opens so many doors. My own work, I happen to be an archaeologist besides being a dean. We’ll all professors here – we do teaching, we do research. I do archaeology in Mexico. This has opened an entire career path for me, and it’s not just doing the work as it is out there in the field. It’s getting along with people that you meet, learning about other cultures and having experiences that, at least to me personally, have just been amazing and transformative. All of you are just embarking on that pathway now, and I hope that you’re able to continue in some fashion.”

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