By Anh Ta
Last Friday, Jan. 16, French, German, Japanese and Russian speakers of Lawrence embarked on an exciting language immersion weekend at Björklunden. Over the course of two days, Lawrentians participated in various learning and bonding activities with their respective language groups while enjoying a scenic, snow-covered Björklunden.
As soon as the students arrived, pledges to speak only the designated language were handed out, along with name tags identifying each student with the language they are learning. Excitement and anxiety were palpable; exclusively using a foreign language for two days was a fun but challenging task.
“It challenges you to use your language in a realistic setting and you are forced not to speak English,” sophomore and French speaker Cathryn Wood remarked. “[This] makes you think and experience what it would be like to live in a non-English speaking country.”
Apart from conversational topics, students were encouraged to put both their language and critical reasoning skills to use through a series of film and current affairs discussions. For the French language group, they explored the complexity of the immigration issues in France through the movie “Le Harve” and delved into the discourse of the recent Charlie Hebdo shooting and related events.
For many foreign language learners, verbal communication capability comes after reading and writing competency. With a great emphasis on verbal communication and expression of the languages, the immersion trip aided many in this most difficult area.This opportunity allowed them to focus on their speaking and listening skills and boosted their confidence.
Other than scheduled activities, students also had the free time to roam around and enjoy the snow-covered trails into the woods while bonding with one another through conversations, building a snowman Totoro or walking on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan.
To many participants, the chance to get to know other students studying the same language is crucial and exciting.
“It is really cool getting to know other people in the program because I think there has not been any opportunity to meet with other French speakers at Lawrence,” said sophomore and French major Torrey Smith.
Sharing the same sentiment, sophomore and Russian major Daisy Forrester appreciated being able to help first-year Russian learners who might be overwhelmed by their participation in the immersion weekend.
“It is nice to get to know the first-years better and help them if they have any questions,” said Forrester. “Also, we can let them know that if they are having a difficult time [learning Russian], we also had bad times, so it is not so scary.”
The lack of communication in English, a common language, does not hinder the different groups from exploring one another’s cultures. The international party on Saturday night allowed glimpses into all four cultures through each group’s performances of skits, dances and songs.
“[It] was awesome because you got a taste of what other cultures are like, which is especially important today with globalization,” Smith commented.
Overall, the language immersion weekend is a unique Lawrence experience. Students gain not only language skills, but also new confidence, cultural appreciation and new friendships.