The Collegian
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Learning Abroad Symposium addresses bridging linguistic barriers

Students and faculty presented stories and lessons they acquired while studying abroad at the Office of International Education's Learning Abroad Symposium. Many of their presentations focused on the effects of different languages.

The event featured five presentations by six students, one student-teacher musical performance and one student-faculty presentation.

Senior Bernardo Jativa studied abroad in France for a year – first at ESSEC Business School and then at Sciences Po University. Having graduated from an international high school in France, he encountered some language barriers. However, through attending cultural events, reading many magazines and newspapers and participating in classes, he extended his knowledge of French.

"I gained a much deeper appreciation for the language," Jativa said.

He now works as a teacher assistant on campus for an intermediate French class.

Senior Kim Laney also spent her junior year studying abroad – one semester in Uganda and the other in Mongolia. Laney knew no Mongolian previous to her departure. She chose SIT Mongolia specifically to participate in the nomadic home-stay.

Mongolian nomads live in gers, which are traditional, portable, tent-like habitations made of a wooden frame covered by wool felt. During her two-week stay with the nomads, she shared a 9-by-9-foot ger with a three-person family. Laney's presentation explained the strange combination of lack of privacy and loneliness she felt during her trip.

"Even if you're surrounded by 10 people in a tiny room and you don't know what they're saying, it can be extremely isolating," Laney said. "I'm a talker, so it was difficult for me to not be able to communicate with my host family because they didn't speak English at all."

International sophomores Veerle Verhey and Javier Cifuentes both spoke English fluently before they even arrived at University of Richmond. Although they knew the language, they felt as if they were separated from the student body as international students, they said. Verhey and Cifentes said they both considered themselves "third-culture kids."

"A third-culture kid is someone who has been raised or had the chance to live in a country somewhere different from their home country," Cifuentes said.

Verhey and Cifuentes cited language as the strongest barrier that prevents international students from interacting with other students. However, they encouraged international students to make a stronger effort to exit their comfort zones. Verhey shared the challenges she faced when she first moved to Mexico and did not know any Spanish.

"They'll learn by listening. I would encourage them to step out and not be afraid of making mistakes," Verhey said.

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Sophomore Kylie McCormick performed a song in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, to demonstrate what it means to step out of a comfort zone. The song she performed was one that her students taught her while she was interning at The Tuloy Foundation, an orphanage in the Philippines. She promised them she would learn all the words before her time with them ended.

The second performance of the night presented another fusion of music and language. Senior Gwen Setterberg, who studied abroad in Brazil for a semester, presented three Brazilian bossa nova songs in Portuguese with professor Kevin Harding.

Setterburg joined the University of Richmond Bossa Nova group on campus the spring semester of her freshman year and has been involved in it ever since. For Setterburg, music built a bridge that led to her learning Portuguese and minoring in Luzo-Brazilian studies. After graduation, she said she hoped to teach English abroad in South America.

Some students are already making plans on how to continue building upon their international experiences. Setterberg shared her hopes to teach English abroad in South America after graduation. Because her family now lives there, McCormick will return to the Philippines this Christmas.

The symposium took place at the International Center Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Contact reporter Eunice Brumskine at

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