Seven people at one table in the Hillcrest Hall dining room collectively spoke eight different languages. Another table boasted 11.

The dinner, hosted by the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute, the University Honors Program, and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, brought together more than 100 students and faculty members. It was designed to encourage networking, foster diversity and inclusion, and promote greater understanding of the campus programs.

Christina McIntyre, associate director of University Honors, wanted a way to introduce the international students at the Language and Culture Institute to students in the honors program and the corps. She worked with Col. Dave Miller, the corps’ deputy commandant for leader development, and Elsie Paredes, the associate director of the Language and Culture Institute, to organize the dinner.

Vanessa Ghaderi, a faculty member with the Language and Culture Institute, said her students got a chance to practice their English and talk about their home countries. They were excited, she said, at the opportunity to meet students from the honors program and the Corps of Cadets.

Chengen Li, a student from China, said he enjoyed interacting with students he might not otherwise get a chance to know. “I often see cadets walking on campus,” he said, “but I don’t usually have any opportunities to talk with them, to make friends with them.”

Sultan Alamri, a Language and Culture Institute student from Saudi Arabia, said he learned about the Corps of Cadets and got some tips for traveling in the U.S.

“Two students from the corps said they wanted to learn Arabic as one of the requirements in their program. I said I could help them and they could help me practice English,” Alamri said. Another student recommended a chocolate shop in Washington and a pizza restaurant in New York that Alamri was keen to visit during break.

Cadet Jordan Disney of Owings Mills, Md., a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science with a minor in leadership studies from the Corps of Cadets Rice Center for Leader Development, said he found the Language and Culture Institute students curious and courageous as they engaged in conversations throughout the evening.

“It was a true pleasure to learn about their home countries and past experiences,” said Disney, the Corps of Cadets regimental commander for the spring semester. “Being a Marylander, I always have a hard time imagining what it is like to have never seen snow before coming to Blacksburg. However, for most of my Chinese and Saudi peers, these past snowstorms were their first winter wonderland.”

He said gatherings like the dinner are extremely important and underutilized. “The opportunities and connections that arise from such events are invaluable as students expand their horizons and learn about other peoples. These events reinforce how unique we as individuals and groups are. Though I may be from Baltimore and you from Saudi Arabia, and I deal regularly with snow whereas you may have never seen it before, we do happen to have a lot in common. Events like these expose that truth.”

With classrooms in Blacksburg as well as a new location in the National Capital Region, the Language and Culture Institute provides language instruction to more than 500 students from over 50 countries.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Rich Mathieson.

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