Home » Arts and Science in the WorldSpring 2012

Sal, Salz, Sel, Coль, and Salt

by Mardy Fones One Comment

McTyeire builds community, fluency and cultural understanding in many languages

Can you say, “Please pass the salt” in another language? Residents of McTyeire International House can. Table conversation might be in any of the seven languages spoken at McTyeire, a residence hall where cultivating language fluency is a community commitment and expanding that fluency a 24-hour opportunity.

Founded in 1981 and now celebrating its 30th anniversary, McTyeire is a project of the College of Arts and Science in partnership with the Office of Housing and Residential Education and Dining Services. Open to students from all Vanderbilt colleges, McTyeire provides cultural and language immersion for residents without leaving the Nashville campus.

McTyeire’s kitchen is known for its international-themed dinners.

“It’s like a giant classroom but without the grades,” says Anja Bandas, McTyeire’s program director. “It’s a community. Some people come with only a year’s language study, others have no formal training and learn (a language) as easily as drinking from a straw. Some have studied abroad and want to maintain fluency. Others are planning to go abroad.”

Organized around six language halls—French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Russian and Chinese—McTyeire residents are encouraged to speak their target languages daily. Monday–Thursday suppers in the house’s dining room—when students are required to converse exclusively in their designated language—are the cornerstone of the McTyeire experience. The dining room is renowned for its international meals. Other activities include weekly study breaks, social events and parties.

Residents just learning their target language and others with greater fluency live side by side. Each hall has a faculty adviser from the College of Arts and Science and a hall coordinator—typically a native speaker—who spearheads cultural understanding in the context of increasing fluency at dinner conversations and activities.

During dinner on Monday–Thursday, students must speak exclusively in their designated languages. It can be a challenge—and it can be fun.

A seventh hall is dedicated to international topics. Demand for specific language halls varies, with strongest interest recently in Japanese and Chinese; Spanish has always been in high demand.

Life Changing

For Shana Wamuhu, a native of Kenya majoring in political science, the McTyeire melting pot is a lush, yet level, cross-cultural playing field.

“McTyeire has helped me learn to interact with other cultures. Without that, the potential for cultural misunderstandings is enormous,” says Wamuhu, a senior in her second year on McTyeire’s International Interest Hall.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for McTyeire,” says Adam Hunter, BA’00. Hunter parlayed his two years on McTyeire’s German Hall, his German and European studies majors and study-abroad experience into jobs with the German Marshall Fund and Robert Bosch, one of Germany’s largest foundations. He later worked in the German parliament with Cem Özdemir, co-chair of the Green Party. After earning his master’s in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, he joined the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Junior Ben Juvelier in his room at McTyeire’s German Hall.

“McTyeire isn’t a foreign students dorm, it’s an everyone dorm, a place that mixes cultures and ideologies,” Hunter says. “It’s a place where people with varying levels of fluency can grow and learn. In many ways, it’s a testament to the character and diversity of our nation.”

More than Fluency

Associate Dean Fräncille Bergquist was one of McTyeire’s founders and has oversight responsibility for the academic program. “McTyeire isn’t so much about creating language fluency as about giving students an opportunity to enhance their language ability,” says Bergquist, also an associate professor of Spanish. “McTyeire is unique because we mix the languages in one residence hall, providing a deep cultural experience as well as a cross-cultural one.”

Cross-cultural is an apt description of Todd Miller’s application of his three semesters at McTyeire while studying economics. “I have lived abroad continuously since graduating, except when I earned my MBA from Columbia,” says Miller, BA’88, who spent 17 years based in Hong Kong as an executive with Sony Entertainment. “Practically everything I have done since Vanderbilt has had some international dimension. I have traveled to more than 100 countries for work and for play. McTyeire nurtured, whetted and shaped my international outlook.” Miller recently took an 83-day bicycle trek from Portugal to Turkey to raise funds for an Asian children’s charity and credits his German fluency with helping him make friends along the way.

When it comes to joining McTyeire, fluency carries less weight than motivation and commitment.

For some residents, like Erika Leicht, a junior majoring in German and public policy studies, McTyeire fulfills multiple goals. “I was close to fluent in German, but McTyeire lets me speak spontaneously, to have conversations,” she says. “Unlike in class, here you can’t plan everything you say.” Leicht says McTyeire also builds unity and camaraderie.

“There’s a sense of community among the people in the halls. We’re close. It’s totally different than the dorm I lived in previously,” says Leicht, who has set her sights on study in Germany and a postgraduation Fulbright Fellowship or internship with a German company.

Needed: Desire and Commitment

McTyeire is open to sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students. A committee that includes residents, faculty and staff makes selections. Bandas, a cultural anthropologist and native of Germany who also serves as the German Hall’s coordinator, says that when it comes to joining McTyeire, fluency carries less weight than motivation and commitment.

McTyeire Spanish Hall alumna Clarissa Adams Fletcher, BA’86, MA’90, was a Latin American studies major. “I came to McTyeire with a love for languages and found it to be a place where I could use it (Spanish) every day,” says Fletcher, who was named the 2011 National Language Teacher of the Year by the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages. “I met people there from all over the world and that opened my eyes to different points of view.”

She tells her Spanish students at Georgia’s Dunwoody High School that fluency is only one benefit to language study. “It helps create globally competent citizens who are flexible and able to learn and relearn, apply new skills and communicate with a broad spectrum of people,” Fletcher says.

photo credit: Joe Howell

One Comment »

  • R Son said:

    Still they comment about the English we speak and look at us like an alien! And if we speak good English, they also appreciate our spoken English, as if we learn yesterday or a week before!