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Seeing the world on a Saturday

High school students learn new languages at the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit

High school students learn new languages at the Wisconsin Global Youth Summit

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

For many Wisconsin high school students, Saturday afternoons are often reserved for soccer games and hanging out with friends. However, on a recent Saturday in Madison students from all over the state discovered what it means to be a global citizen.

The Wisconsin Global Youth Summit hosted by the Department of Public Instruction and the Division of International Studies, took place on Saturday, March 4.

The fifth annual summit gathered students from over 30 public school districts in Wisconsin to discover how to be a global citizen. The students had a full day of activities that explored how they could use their own interests and experiences to be engaged at the international level, while also exposing them to different languages, cultures and peoples in the world.

In the morning, the high school students learned what it means to make their own lives global by talking with Wisconsin International Scholars, an undergraduate group that has made their university experience global through a scholarship community.  Following this, the high school students learned how to apply their interests in an intercultural exchange through conversations with UW-Madison international students involved in International Reach.

In the afternoon, the Language Institute hosted mini foreign-language lessons for the students, followed by a student panel discussing study abroad.

The nearly 170 hand-selected high school students sat in groups of ten at tables organized by language. There was a placard labeling the table as Arabic, Korean, Hausa, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Yoruba, Swahili and even Yucatan Mayan, among others, which united the students at each table by language.

Each team was tasked with learning a new language, creating a skit to share the new culture and, then, ultimately, presenting their new knowledge before the large group in under an hour. Suddenly, students were speaking Wolof, reliving Germany’s World Cup win in German and singing in Chinese. Some groups had been assigned the same language, such as Arabic, which the students took to be a friendly competition between these novice language learners.

The presentations that followed the language learning sessions brought smiles and laughter to the crowd. The Czech team showed off new phonetic skills with the particular ř letter, a sound unique to the Eastern European language. The high school students put their lessons to work with a silly tongue twister that they shared in Czech and English.

The Hausa table took a different approach to the large-scale skit. Armed with props, the group changed into traditional dress and regaled the crowd in stories of a culture of long tunics and intricate, vivid patterned robes. They also showed off their abilities with short introductions for the audience and familial greetings.

After renditions of “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” greetings, expressions of love and other comical skits all in different languages, the students met a panel of current UW-Madison students to learn about the opportunities that language provides in the world.

Comprised of two graduate and two undergraduate students, the panel showed the high school students the next steps, like how they can go abroad and what they can do next to keep learning about language, culture and the world. The two graduate students both had backgrounds in Asian studies and empowered students to take advantage of less common languages.

Alicia Wright, PhD candidate in Journalism, is studying the interplay between journalism and social movements, focusing on India with Hindi language newspapers. She spoke about how knowing Urdu and Hindi created opportunities she never would have had without her language abilities.

Event facilitator and Institute for Regional and International Studies Outreach Assistant Director, Nancy Heingartner, mentioned her own experience afforded to her by language when she was working at an embassy on a State Department fellowship. Heingartner said that she had applied for a State Department fellowship on a whim because it was an opportunity that allowed her to use her Slavic language skills. The next thing she knew she got to meet a sitting president abroad.

Event participants left the summit enthused and encouraged by the possibilities that language creates. The lessons crisscrossed the globe, but left everyone wanting to learn more.

“I left feeling more inspired, because I just spent a whole day with really nice people my age that are just enamored with the world that we live in as I am,”  Sun Prairie High School Sophomore Joey Reindl told the Sun Prairie Star. “It made me really excited for my future and what I’m able to do and accomplish.”  

Story by Jen Wagman, Language Institute