Campus Dorm Immerses Students in Foreign Language and Culture: Q + A with Dr. Richter
Residence life in college is about more than a place to live. Your dorm or apartment is one of the central spaces you can interact with students outside your major, and the friendships you make can stay with you for your entire life.
This year, Encompass Hall is going to look slightly different than other apartments. In the same building as our Institute for Global Studies, Encompass will be modeled after a Learning-Living Community. The four apartments on the top floor, each housing four women, will have the opportunity to learn about foreign language and culture as a community.
Dr. Lindsey Richter, Director of the Institute for Global Studies, shares about the plan for Encompass and how it will grow in the future.
What is the vision for Encompass?
We want to focus on cultural learning and cultural engagement. Our students from different backgrounds and disciplines will be able to come together and share in our own knowledge. When we go to classes, that’s one part of our lives. In our hall or apartment, that’s another piece of our lives. The Learning-Living Community (LLC) model brings those things together to integrate academic learning with the social and fun side of college. We’re also excited for two of the apartments to have an exchange student. Bringing together the life piece, you have someone you’re welcoming in and helping to connect with the community. And hopefully, they’ll share pieces of their background with us, too.
Tell us about the events and activities you will do.
Our idea is to have a couple of larger activities that I’ll plan and will be funded by the Institute for Global Studies. What we’re really hoping is that each apartment will take a particular month and plan an event. That could be a workshop, a cooking lesson, or listening to music from another country. The hope is that each apartment will plan an event that will fall under their passions and interests. We also will let the apartments decide if they just want it to be the LLC or if they will open it up to the whole campus.
How did this plan come about?
Back in fall of 2019, we began a process of bringing together the foreign language program with what was the Office of Global Initiatives. Our vision for a center for cross cultural learning became the Institute for Global Studies. Being a site for cultural learning for the entire campus, we came up with the tagline of Encompass being Grace’s Gateway to the World. We needed more space, and no one was using Encompass. Of course, COVID made things complicated, so in the 2020-2021 academic year, we hit the pause button for a couple years. Now that we are headed back to some kind of normal, this seemed like a great moment to open the LLC and have a group of students that were willing to jump in and see what that would look like.
Who has been influential in this process?
A huge shoutout and thanks belongs to the Residence Life and Student Affairs teams. Looking at res life here on campus was helpful in knowing what students experience in their first year and how we can build on that. It has also been helpful to talk with Aaron Crabtree and Brent Mencarelli about the res life structure. For the cultural aspect, I have worked with my program coordinator Debora Wilhite to think about how we can have cultural learning opportunities that bring together our international and domestic students. Talking to these people definitely gave me a new appreciation for how much res life does every day, and I’ve loved working with them.
What are you most excited for?
The piece that excites me the most is to have students really connect to issues in a space where we are seeking to understand. I’m very excited that students will bring their expertise in non foreign language disciplines like psychology and nursing. The hope is that students will feel ownership to build on their own interests, and we’re here to provide the resources and structure. I’m excited to hear what students want to do and what they feel will be most beneficial for them as they seek to deepen their knowledge of foreign language and culture. The hope is that it would look slightly different from one year to the next as the residents change.
How do you want to expand in the future?
We would love to have French and Spanish foreign language immersion apartments before students leave for study abroad or to ease the reverse culture shock of coming back. There’s also a pretty high bar for our education students to get their license to teach a foreign language. The 36 hours we have in class are not a lot, so having the opportunity for students to work on their foreign language skills in an immersion apartment could be helpful.
We are looking at not just the community we want to build on campus but also how we can reach our broader community. This year, I hope to get our feet wet with a service project. In the long run, this space can become a link between campus and community to connect with people who can share their culture with us. We want to feel like a welcoming place for those who aren’t directly connected to Grace but who can be forging new contacts with our community.
We’re also hoping for a faculty exchange with our partner school in Hungary, Károli Gáspár. We would love to see visiting faculty living in Encompass. It’s good for them because things are very walkable around campus and to Winona Lake, but we also think it’s exciting for students to get to know a faculty member from Hungary and to even take a class with them. I myself am hoping to head over to Hungary to teach in Spring 2024.
If you had a student here who isn’t sure about living in Encompass, what would you say to them?
Residence life has that special aspect of getting to be involved with people and activities that are less available later in life. Dive into something you’re not sure about. As we look into other cultures and see how big the world and God’s creation are, it helps us to reflect on who we want to be and where we want to go. We really hope this space gives us the chance to think about our place in the world and the variety that exists in people and in life. Students will start to think about life after graduation while getting an opportunity they may not have ever again. Taking advantage of this unique housing may shed light on who you want to be and where you want to go.