Community Connections through Language

June 28, 2019
SPCS connects its community through language classes

By Julia Straka, ’21

With direction from Senior Program Manager Mary Catherine Raymond, C’17, the School of Professional & Continuing Studies has been providing language instruction to community members, international au pairs working for local Richmond families and, most recently, undergraduate students. 

The language enrichment program designed for au pairs, UR Au Pair, satisfies annual state department educational requirements while keeping the finances and schedules of both au pairs and their host families in mind. Au pairs can fulfill their educational credits during weekend immersion programs, where they can watch, discuss and create art informed by a featured American film or visit Richmond's historical landmarks and museums. 

In order to accommodate au pair and host family schedules, courses are offered on a variety of dates and times, and weekend immersion programs enable traveling au pairs to participate. One of the program’s students, Marília Munhoz from Brazil (pictured above), appreciates the opportunity the program has given her to connect with other international au pairs and share experiences, as well as cultures. The program has not only seen au pairs from 14 different countries and five out of the seven continents — au pairs working in other U.S. cities have even flown in to take part in weekend courses. 

One such au pair flew in from Minnesota to participate in the weekend Art and Film Exploration course. Not only was she able to advance her English skills and earn educational credit hours, the course served as an opportunity for professional development as she was also an artist. Munhoz takes advantage of the professional development advantages of UR Au Pair as well; she added public relations and public speaking skills she learned through the program to her résumé.

Munhoz believes that what students take away from the program depends on their personalities and priorities, and on whether they want to travel or learn: “I look for classes that improve my skills; I am there to learn,” she says.

To extend opportunities for au pairs to both satisfy language education requirements and learn skills that could help their careers, Raymond has also developed a hospitality certificate program because many au pairs go into the tourism and customer service industries after their au pair experience.

UR Au Pair has also presented Munhoz with another unique opportunity: To teach a Portuguese language class herself. Raymond offered Munhoz the opportunity to teach Osher Institute members Portuguese after remembering a previous Italian au pair who taught a lunch series to members preparing for a trip to Italy. Munhoz has some experience teaching school children about journalism, and she was excited for this experience, which she believed would be a big challenge. 

Portuguese is not a commonly-taught language, even though there is a large Brazilian community in 
Richmond. Munhoz was excited about incorporating her fresh, first-hand cultural experiences into her lessons and teaching everyday phrases not found in textbooks or workbooks. As a native speaker, she also has the unique opportunity to share Brazilian culture with her students: “the media [is] always showing certain aspects of Brazil,” Munhoz says, and she wants to “speak more about the country away from the media.” Munhoz hopes she can dispel stereotypes that the media propels by solely showing certain aspects of Brazil and give her students a more authentic impression of her country.

While Munhoz connects the Osher Institute and international au pair communities, other language classes bridge the gap between undergraduate day students and non-traditional SPCS students. After many undergraduates inquired about the School’s American Sign Language classes, and the course gained popularity, a second section of ASL was opened. So far, twelve students have signed up for ASL in 2019, including one who is interested in pursuing it further. Another student has enrolled in evening French.

Think Again language classes offer several benefits to undergraduates: they are offered tuition free and have the freedom to zero in on grammar and pronunciation, while emphasizing graded assignments less than traditional classes. Though they are more flexible, they still provide students with a traditional, classroom, lecture-based experience to enhance their skills and prepare for opportunities such as studying abroad. Evening courses also allow students to schedule around their day classes with the convenience of being on campus. 

Raymond is planning to integrate undergraduate students even further into the SPCS community by organizing cultural excursions in Richmond for au pairs and international undergraduates. University of Richmond has a large international undergraduate population, and Raymond believes it is only intuitive to bridge the two groups: “As SPCS moves forward, it is a natural connection we can make across campus,” she says. 

SPCS not only caters to Richmond community members, Osher Institute members, international au pairs and traditional undergraduate students. Raymond describes the school as a “melting pot [where] many different people [are] connected in one classroom.” The School is a place where these diverse students can connect, interact and learn from each other. 

Raymond believes that this intergenerational connection is unique to the University of Richmond and SPCS, and Munhoz agrees: “It's totally different [because] private schools and universities are closed off,” she says about Brazilian schools, while praising SPCS for being both “open to the [local] community and open to the international community.”