International students play vital role at World Languages Day

While preparing a presentation about this home country, Surendra Prajapati posted a question on his Facebook page:  “Nepali friends, what would you like American high school students to know about Nepal?”

Prajapati, a doctoral student in medical physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, received more than 20 responses. These included suggestions that he mention Nepal’s uniquely shaped flag, its linguistic and ethnic diversity, geography and biodiversity, gender roles and religious beliefs.

Now, he had plenty of ideas to incorporate in “Nepal: Where Unity Meets Diversity,” his presentation at this year’s World Languages Day, an outreach program for high school students. Organized by UW–Madison’s Language Institute, the all-day event brought approximately 600 students, along with teachers, from 24 high schools to Union South on Thursday, November 14, during International Education Week.

Prajapati wanted his young audience to know more about his country than its usual association with Mt. Everest.  “Being from a small country like Nepal, which is not well-known to a lot of Americans, I love opportunities to teach about the diversity in that country and the pride we feel as Nepalis,” he says.

Surendra Prajapati talks about Nepal's unique flag during his World Languages Day presentation.
Surendra Prajapati talks about Nepal’s unique flag during his World Languages Day presentation.

His enthusiasm for participating in this year’s program — along with his friends’ willingness to contribute — reflects a desire shared by many international students to introduce the campus and community to their home cultures.

“I think it is the responsibility of international students to give back to the local community by sharing our culture and talking about our countries,” Prajapati says.

International students play a significant part in the success of World Languages Day. Along with UW–Madison faculty, staff and other students, they lead many of the 50 breakout sessions – the day’s core program – by giving introductory language lessons or demonstrating cultural traditions.  Many also are among the army of student volunteers who help run the event.

“World Languages Day is a good opportunity for high school students to connect with international cultures, broaden horizons, cultivate friendship, and become more aware of different traditions,” says Qianqian Xie, a sophomore from China who volunteered to help. “I look forward to being part of this exciting day.”

The partners involved with World Languages Day include International Student Services, particularly International Reach, a program that enables international students to share their perspectives on their home countries.

“World Languages Day gives International Reach volunteers a meaningful opportunity to connect with curious and engaged high school students who want to know more about the world,” says Allison Blader, program assistant for International Reach. “We hope a high school student will be inspired to learn a new language, visit a new country and think of the world in new ways from their experience hearing our Reach volunteers.”

Other international students lead sessions at World Languages Day as representatives of UW–Madison academic departments. Often, these are graduate students in languages and literature working towards advanced degrees.

World Languages Day 2013 was sponsored by the Anonymous Fund, African Studies Program, Center for East Asian Studies, Center for European Studies, Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia, Center for South Asia, Global StudiesLatin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program, Office of Admissions and Recruitment, Russian Flagship Center, and Wisconsin Humanities Council.

Contact: Wendy Johnson, assistant director, Language Institute, and World Languages Day organizer,, 608-262-4077.