Hillsdale’s International Club is now offering free, informal courses in six foreign languages: Bulgarian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Swahili.
Each language has its own weekly session lasting 30 or 45 minutes. Hillsdale students lead the classes. Sophomore Bilyana Petkova teaches Bulgarian, junior Christine Nishinaga teaches Japanese, sophomore Katie Kortepeter teaches Mandarin, junior Will Gage teaches Russian, and senior Christine Nyawaga teaches Swahili. Five students, including junior Tia Han, sophomore Hee-Sang Lee, and senior Jay Lee, are teaching Korean.
Jay Lee, club president, came up with this idea. After finding students who were fluent in foreign languages and willing to teach, he advertised the classes at the Source and started signing up interested students. According to Lee and the other teachers, the classes require a minimal time commitment and are particularly for beginners.
“I also want it to be about culture just as much as it is about language. It’s important and it’s also something that we don’t get here at Hillsdale,” said Kortepeter, vice president of the club. Her Chinese class has already had several sessions.
“I also like to bring in snacks, so we’re all eating seaweed,” she said.
Students have already shown appreciation for these classes. Sophomore Rebekah Molloy was thrilled to sign up for the Chinese class. She had taken Chinese for two years overseas while her parents were in the military, but had to give it up when coming to Hillsdale.
“When I saw that [Chinese] was offered, it was just perfect,” Molloy said. She added that while she would prefer that Hillsdale had more actual foreign language departments, the International Club courses are a good substitute option.
Lee first initiated the classes hoping to help satisfy needs like Molloy’s, which he also experienced when coming to campus.
“I came [to Hillsdale] wanting to learn a lot of languages, and we have language departments, and they’re great, but we don’t have a variety,” he said. “I wanted languages from outside Western Europe.”
The lack of non-Western language classes at Hillsdale was a disappointment to Kortepeter as well.
“We are in a bit of a bubble here at Hillsdale, and learning other languages would be a great way to sort of have one foot in and also one foot out, and be looking out at what the rest of the world has to offer,” Kortepeter said.
At the same time, however, the club appreciates how the languages offered at Hillsdale back up the college’s ideology.
“Hillsdale is strongly committed to the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage that we have, and so it’s appropriate that Hillsdale focuses on Western languages,” said Carmen Wyatt-Hayes, professor of Spanish and the club’s faculty adviser. “But languages are the gates to understanding different ways of viewing the world, so I think that it is fabulous for students to offer courses in their native language.”
Lee said he believes the college’s few language offerings are not so much a problem as a call to duty.
“Hillsdale is really good at being what it is, a very Western-Heritage-focused college,” Lee said. “I can only speak from my experience, but I feel like the students here are missing something. College is the place where they can be exposed to other cultures. Since we don’t do that within the school curriculum, I think that’s why International Club needs to be a more active organization on campus.”
The club will indeed be active this year, according to Lee. By offering more activities such as the language classes, the members hope to better further the aims of their club.
“Hillsdale is a very America-centered, America-oriented college,” Lee said, describing the club’s goals. “What we’re trying to do is help students realize that there’s a world — there’s something outside of the U.S. that is valuable to learn about and that is interesting.”