On Wednesday, Feb. 8 in the A.K. Hinds University Center, the Department of World Languages hosted a poetry event centered on encouraging diversity and creativity outside of the classroom.
This program was first introduced by Spanish Professor Garrett Fisher three years ago. It was originally meant to exhibit romance languages which is why the date falls right before Valentine’s Day; unfortunately, that limited the number of languages that could be represented.
“I saw a need for students and faculty to collaborate on an event outside of a classroom that would allow for creativity and encourage diversity,” stated Fisher.
The night began with a light atmosphere as a large crowd of students and faculty mingled and submerged themselves in Spanish music. The room was decorated in a beautiful assortment of pinks and reds. Chocolates were offered as the snack for the night completing a sultry Valentine’s Day theme.
Dr. Will Lehman, Head of the Department of World Languages, said, “I’m the German professor here at Western Carolina. I do not have any students performing, but I am here to show my support for the Spanish, French and Japanese departments. Sometimes we even have students who perform that speak languages we do not offer here at Western.”
Professors and students were present for various reasons. Many professors were there in support of their students and peers.
As soon as the event started, everyone quickly found their seats. The first performer was a Spanish professor named Mark Couture. He read two poems, each filled with rhythm and beautiful melodic sounds. As he read his poetry aloud, the words were translated into English up onto a screen behind him. This set the tone for the rest of the evening, which was smooth and relaxing.
Spanish was not the only language represented at the event. French, Russian and Japanese were also spoken by students and staff. A student by the name of Kristina Shostak recited a Russian poem titled “I Love You” by Alexander Pushkin. She was the only individual during the night to speak fluent Russian, which was her native language.
Many of the students who performed saw it as an opportunity to practice or showcase the hard work they have put in while learning another language. Twins Allison and Anna Ashbaugh are seniors here at Western Carolina University. They studied abroad and have been taking Spanish together for two years.
Anna stated, “It’s rewarding to get on stage and showcase how we’ve learned to use these and apply them.”
As the night continued, the students and staff performed their poetry in various ways. Some stood up on the stage alone while others performed in groups. Western Carolina sophomore, Brooke Palmer and junior, Danielle Averitt performed a duet together singing “Rain” by Babymetal, a female Japanese group.
Before the performance began, Averitt stated, “This is my first time being here and performing. I’m really excited to see poems performed in different languages.”
For some, performing in a native language can be just as nerve-racking as a secondary one. Adding performance to the already challenging aspect of speaking another language created nervousness in even the most fluent speakers.
“I was nervous at first, but excited. It’s always interesting to witness other languages and traditions… Maybe, it will allow other students to become interested,” said Dr. Michelle Sorenson of the Philosophy and Religion Department.
During the event, several students were offered leadership and volunteer opportunities. Craig Daughtery led the event, MaKayla Pendergrass helped with decorations and design and Regina LaCarruba helped with photography.
Professor Fisher hopes that this program will continue to grow and more students, languages and staff will make appearances in the future. This year, 67 students and staff used Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, Russian, Farsi and Tibetan in their poetry.
“I like listening to poems in other languages because even though I don’t understand everything being said, it’s nice to hear the sound and the flow of other languages,” stated Western Carolina sophomore, Isabel Couture. “Not only did I get to hear poetry, but I also got to listen to two students in the Japanese program karaoke style which was super cool.”
As the event came to a close, a raffle was drawn. Three students won Western Carolina cups. Afterwards, all the performers and several attendees gathered together for a photo. The night died down with music and happiness as students and faculty made their way out.
“It takes a village to make an event like this happen and I appreciate all the help I have been given to make this happen. This event has become an annual joy and students have already expressed an interest in presenting next year,” stated Fisher.
This event was a reminder that diversity is important and regardless of language or culture, we can all connect and create something beautiful.
If you would like to know more information about this program or how to get involved next year, contact Professor Garrett Fisher at email@example.com.