Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT Global Languages celebrates students’ diversity

The MIT community is known for its multicultural fabric. But how often do students have a chance to reflect on what it means to be part of two or more different cultures?

On Friday, March 11, over 60 MIT undergraduate students came together to celebrate their cultural and linguistic background during the “Heritage Meets Heritage” event hosted by MIT Global Languages.

During the event, students participated in a humorous warm-up activity, played language trivia games, won prizes, and discussed cultural heritage questions in small groups. The questions addressed tangible aspects of culture (such as traditional clothing, music, and festivals) as well as deeper reflections on heritage languages and multicultural identity: “What is your favorite dish from your family’s culture? Do you listen to music in your heritage language? Do you identify with one culture more than another? Are there any words or concepts whose meaning you feel changes according to the language?” Students engaged in lively discussions and shared their experiences while meeting peers from different cultures. The room was abuzz with conversation and time flew by quickly.

Thanks to the generous support of MindHandHeart and Hermanas Unidas, at the conclusion of the celebration, students sampled foods from around the world, such as empanadas, Chinese buns, pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls), baklava, madeleines, and more. In addition, each participant received a commemorative tote bag and a mug.

Students were enthusiastic about the event. Sophomore Joy Domingo-Kameenui was excited to meet new friends, adding, “I also got a bigger picture of the diversity of MIT … [H]earing stories about other peoples’ experiences that I haven’t experienced myself made me sometimes feel lucky, sad, interested, concerned, and many other feelings. It showed me how big and complex the world can be and how we should be open-minded when working with others, especially at MIT where students, faculty, staff, and affiliates are from all over.”

Junior Cher Jiang was thankful for the “great hospitality from the Global Languages faculty throughout, and we got to connect with both current and former professors in a setting outside the classroom, which helped us feel more invested in a department we already loved. The giveaways that had been prepared were thoughtful and generous, from the unique artwork on the tote bag to the colorful array of cultural foods at dinner. I even tried baklava for the first time! I’m glad we all made time for it.”

First-year Rachel Lu points out, “I underestimated how big the community of people with similar backgrounds is at MIT and it was very insightful learning about other cultures! Moreover, coming to the event with my friends allowed me to learn more about their heritage language, since this topic isn’t something we usually talk about.”

Global Languages lecturer in Chinese Min-Min Liang pioneered the idea and worked hard to bring together a team to organize the event, that included lecturers Helena Belio-Apaolaza (Spanish), Mariana San Martin (Spanish), Nilma Dominique (Portuguese), and Maria Khotimsky (Russian). Liang explains that “With everyone’s help, we turned the idea into a positive event that brought everyone together, students and lecturers in Global Languages. I am really grateful that we are able to form a community together.”

Khotimsky adds, “We were overwhelmed by our colleagues’ support: so many GL lecturers helped us with the trivia game questions and attended the event to help set up, greet the students, and facilitate the activities. It was a great community-building experience, and we enjoyed the chance to create this new space where our students could relax, enjoy great food, and engage in important conversations.”

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