MAILED: July 10, 2001
EAU CLAIRE — For more than 20 years, the University of Wisconsin-Eau
Claire has played host to a variety of foreign visitors interested in honing
their English speaking skills in the university’s intensive English language
immersion summer course. This year, the tradition continues as visitors from
Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, India, the United Arab
Emirates, Japan and Korea improve their English while experiencing life in and
The program came about originally through a connection
with the Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), a
30-campus system in Mexico much like the UW System, and the majority of
participants still come from there.
The courses last between four and six weeks, run daily
from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., and include about one hour of “English table”
in Davies Center (11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.), which anyone is welcome to join.
The only requirement is that only English is spoken.
Wednesdays are set aside for field trips, including
visits to the Chippewa Valley Museum, a local fire station, Sacred Heart
Hospital, Fanny Hill Inn and Dinner Theatre, Banbury Place, The Leinenkugel
Brewery, Manz Elementary School and a historic homes tour. Weekend trips to
Valley Fair, Minneapolis, Madison and the Wisconsin Dells are also offered.
According to Dr. Gale Crouse, professor of foreign
languages and director of ESL programs at UW-Eau Claire, after so many years
of successful programs, the value of bringing people of other countries and
cultures to UW-Eau Claire is widely recognized. Both UW-Eau Claire students
and faculty benefit from the chance to interact for an extended period with
these diverse groups, which often include as many educators and other
professionals as college-age students. And as the visitors learn more about
life in the United States and improve their English skills, both groups have
the opportunity to make lasting personal and professional connections.
What is less often noted, however, is how the symbiotic
relation between UW-Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley community operates in
relation to these programs. Just like vacationers or convention goers, the
students who come for the English program go out into the community to
explore, contributing to the health of the local economy. And community
members play a role in extending and enriching the experience for the visitors
by welcoming them on the tours of local facilities and by inviting them into
their homes for meals and conversation.
Currently there are about 24 couples and families from
Eau Claire and surrounding communities who host “Conversation and Cuisine”
dinners. Some are UW-Eau Claire faculty members or alumni, and others are just
people who enjoy the opportunity to meet and mingle with people from other
Dr. Kate Lang, assistant professor of history at UW-Eau
Claire, and her husband David Knowlton, an artist and the scenic shop supervisor
for the university’s department of music and theatre arts, have participated
in the dinners for three years. Kate says she participates because as an Islamic
culture historian she has traveled extensively and been welcomed into people’s
homes in other countries many times.
“I definitely felt that I wanted to return the favor
and give something back,” Lang said. “Spending time with families is one of
the best, most effective ways to learn a language.” And since Lang’s family
now includes four children ranging in age from a toddler to a teenager about to
enter college, she says she really appreciates the opportunity to give them some
exposure to people from other cultures.
John Grump, a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources, and his wife, Amy Alpine, a librarian with the
Indianhead Federated Library System, have also been involved for three years.
Grump says he and his wife both love traveling and meeting new people. They have
hosted both students and professors from Japan, and more recently, students from
“It’s almost like traveling,” Grump said. “We get
a taste of another culture and a feel for its people. We become friends with the
people we host, and it always feel like we get more out of it than we give.”
Grump and Alpine became involved with the program after
their children had already grown up and left home, but Grump said that it would
be fun to involve them as well sometime.
Kathy Peterson, community projects coordinator for the
Center for International Education at UW-Eau Claire, said a second group of
visitors from Japan and Korea will be coming for four weeks, from July 15 -
August 10, and the center is always interested in finding more dinner hosts.
Peterson ends her e-mail messages with this quote: “The
language of friendship is not words, but meanings. It is an intelligence above
language,” (Author unknown.).
Community members interested in hosting a “Conversation
and Cuisine” dinner should contact Peterson at the Center for International
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: July 10, 2001