Opening doors to language and cultural discovery

students watching an instructor write chinese calligraphy

May 20, 2024 - 12:30pm

High school students from all over Oregon traveled in flocks to the University of Oregon for Foreign Language and International Studies Day. The annual celebration, held in May, provides approximately 1,000 students with an immersive experience in cultures and languages of the world, and a chance to learn more about the university’s foreign language departments.

With over 65 presentations, workshops and classes to participate in, FLIS Day offered many opportunities for students to learn from presenters who teach their expertise in the arts, language and culture.

“In an increasingly multilingual world, we want students to gain a global perspective, and this event provides real-world experiences for language students each year,” said Michelle Hefner, FLIS Day coordinator and administrative program assistant at the Yamada Language Center in UOs’ College of Arts and Sciences. “They discover mini-language lessons, workshops on food, song and crafts, and the ever-popular music and dance events.”

Among these music and dance events were the UO’s very own Ahiru Daiko and Wushu Club. Ahiru Daiko is the student-led Taiko (Japanese drum) ensemble, and the Wushu club specializes in Chinese martial arts.

students practicing Wushu, watching demonstrators in the background on a stage
Students practicing Wushu at FLIS

Since Hefner began organizing FLIS Day over 20 years ago, she has witnessed its growth firsthand. For example, FLIS Day used to be spread across different buildings, but the renovation of the student union allowed FLIS sessions to take place in one main building. Also, new languages continue to be added to the program, and new and exciting cultural entertainment is brought in each year.

FLIS Day is meant to inspire students to study a foreign language in college. UO student River Ribeiro attended FLIS Day while at Corvallis High School in Corvallis, Oregon, and is now a sophomore majoring in biology and minoring in Arabic. Ribeiro works at the Yamada Language Center and even helps recruit student volunteers for FLIS Day.

“Going to FLIS Day in high school greatly impacted my choice to pursue a new foreign language. The session I enjoyed the most was ‘Learn Arabic in 30 minutes.’ I had never been exposed to Arabic, but from this session, I decided that it was one of the most beautiful languages I had heard, and I wanted to learn it. I decided to attend the UO because it was the only school that I was considering that taught Arabic,” Ribeiro said. “I'm grateful that I was able to attend FLIS because it changed the trajectory of my language education and gave me the chance to explore a new language and culture that I have come to love.”

For over 20 years, students like Ribeiro have been inspired to pursue foreign languages they wouldn’t have imagined learning without experiencing FLIS Day.

“FLIS Day continues to be a wonderful day for not only our visitors but for our campus community as well,” Hefner said.

— By Harper Wells, College of Arts and Sciences