By MOLLY AVERY
While Mary Washington faculty are often treasured for their hard work and kindness, many newer employees remain unknown and underappreciated. Some of those forgotten staff members, hidden down the hill behind Jefferson and confined to the walls of Combs, are the visiting language instructors and coordinators.
These terms are often met with confusion when brought up to the majority of students and faculty on campus. Most people could not point them out in a crowd as they are often mistaken for students themselves. They are crucial to students success though.
Visiting language coordinators (VLC) and visiting language instructors (VLI) are people who come from countries in which the languages taught here are native. The job of a VLC is to come to Mary Washington and help students further their education of languages and culture. They do this through hosting cooking hours, conversation hours, movie screenings and tutoring. VLI’s do all of these things as well, along with teaching a few classes.
“We are here to help the students, we want to help the students, but they don’t know we’re here.” said Sophie Blons, the French VLI.
There’s a total of nine instructors and coordinators employed by the school. There are three instructors; one for Spanish, French, and German. Along with that there are also six coordinators; one for Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Chinese, and Italian. They’re here on a one year program, so the university gets new instructors and coordinators every year.
The coordinators and instructors live on campus in South Hall, down the hill from Combs, as part of the languages living and learning community. The purpose of this community is for students studying languages to interact with the instructors and coordinators to further their connections.
“We were really excited to come here,” said Ane Perez Gago, who is the VLC for Spanish. “But that excitement went down.”
As a resident of South Hall myself, I have experienced this eagerness fade firsthand. The coordinators were painted a picture of what working on campus would be like, but it didn’t take long until it crumpled away. From housing mishaps to raised expectations, the instructors and coordinators were cheated in many ways.
One of the guarantees of being a VLC or VLI is having your own room. Due to the housing crisis at the beginning of the semester though, nearly all of the coordinators and instructors had to share a room, and it wasn’t until they arrived that they were told. At the beginning of last semester all but two of the coordinators and instructors were sharing rooms.
VLC for Arabic, Zaid Nihad Yousef Odetallah, was one of the coordinators to share this fate. He shared a room with the Italian VLC. As if having to share a room wasn’t bad enough, they were also given one of the smaller rooms in South Hall.
“I think it’s the smallest room in South, the room is so tiny,” Odetallah said. “It’s very hard, the room is so so small.”
Having to share rooms is not all of it though. Also because of the housing crisis not all of coordinators and instructors even live in South Hall. Some were placed in other dorms, when South Hall became full with students who were supposed to live in Arrington. I can attest that not everybody that is a part of the living and learning community are living in South Hall, and only around half the people living in South Hall are actually a part of it.
Blons shares a room with the German VLC in Russell, a hall for first years with no suite bathrooms. There is also another coordinator living in Ball.
“It’s not what we expected it to be. We were suppose to be sharing a house with all the international students and students taking languages that wanted to get in contact with us, but that’s not how it worked out,” said Isabel Perez Moreno, who is the Spanish VLI.
Housing isn’t the only challenge they’ve face. Adjusting to a different country is never easy, but adjusting to a college campus in another country is far more challenging than one can imagine. All of the coordinators and instructors have already graduated university, so to not only work, but also to live at one again is quite difficult for them.
The coordinators and instructors went on to explain that most of the universities they went to were in cities and didn’t really have an isolated campus. UMW’s small campus can make people feel trapped at times, but one of the things that helps with that is leaving the university to go out. This isn’t very easy for the instructors and coordinators as none of them have cars here.
The VLC’s and VLI’s this year are working with the university during a difficult time, with the language department potentially at risk of being cut down. Their distress has been expressed through hall meetings. Residents of South Hall are worried that the future jobs of VLC’s and VLI’s could be cut, which would erase a primary aspect of the living and learning community.
Now more than ever, they are emphasizing the importance of learning another language. Moreno commented on a way to improve student interest, “I think the university should encourage students to not just learn a language as a requirement, but to be interested in languages.”
Despite all the drama they’ve faced, the coordinators have made the best they can out of their situation. They’ve visited various parts of the country during winter break, keep in touch with people from back home, and form connections with what few students they can. In times when they don’t have that though, they still have each other.