The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Visiting Language Coordinators organize UMW Overseas project to promote multiculturalism

4 min read
A women holding holding a blue book titled, "WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A..."

The university’s VLCs help with creating a diverse and educational experience throughout the school year.


Staff Writer

Every year, international students attend the University of Mary Washington to fulfill the Visiting Language Coordinator role. By teaching about their language and culture to fellow classmates, VLCs move away from conventional teaching that might focus more on grammatical aspects and instead work to create cultural experiences; I myself am one of them.

A couple of months before I graduated in 2022, Director of the Center for International Education Jose Sainz contacted the University of Deusto where the UMW in Spain program takes place. Sainz was looking for someone who wanted to spend a year studying and teaching Spanish a couple of times a week in the United States. As I had never set foot in the U.S., it seemed like the perfect shot.

The Department of Modern Languages has a VLC for German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Chinese and Arabic. While also taking classes, VLCs offer tutoring and conversation hours, lending their expertise as native speakers to students who seek to practice their language of study. 

During conversation hours, VLCs speak in their native language or English depending on the level of those attending. The sessions address a range of topics from local gastronomy to the national music scene. 

In addition to offering weekly academic assistance through tutoring and conversation hours, the VLCs also organize the UMW Overseas project. The project’s purpose is to encourage multiculturalism through events such as movie nights, trivia nights and cooking sessions. 

Instead of focusing on the culture of one language during these events, the VLCs promote the interculturality and shared qualities of different countries and cultures. 

The program is not only a great chance for local students to learn from people their age, but also for students studying abroad at UMW. Being here, we can take part in the university experience in a way that we feel we contribute something to the community.

Initially, Charlotte Handwerk, the VLC for German, was not supposed to stay at Mary Washington for more than six months. 

“At first I was only going to come to do a semester of study abroad as a normal international student, until one day they contacted me from UMW to offer me the German VLC position, meaning that I could stay for a year,” she said. 

After completing her initial semester, the prospect of a longer stay was an opportunity she’s happy she took.

“I had two days to think about it, so I decided to give it a chance and be spontaneous and here I am,” said Handwerk. “I must admit that I love it, and I’m so glad I did it.” 

Meanwhile, Lyson Piasecki, the VLC for French, has a totally different story, as she is a legacy student of the university.

“My sister Margaux was the French VLC last year … when I came in April to visit her, I had the chance to see the university, and I fell in love with it,” she said. 

While she enjoyed her visit to the university, Piasecki was also intrigued by the cultural differences between European and American academic life.

“I have always been kind of obsessed with the American high school and college experience, as it is so different from Europe, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to live this little life for a while,” she said.

Mary Washington is relatively small compared to other universities in the nation, which are larger and more associated with the traditional American college experience. Nevertheless, Piasecki and Handwerk have taken advantage of UMW’s more intimate size as they get involved on campus.

“The people are so kind and welcoming,” said Handwerk. “I feel like I matter here, and I really appreciate that someone can make you feel like that.”

According to Piasecki, attending an American university has also given her the opportunity to join different clubs on campus.

“We don’t really have clubs at European colleges, so it’s really nice to be able to explore different clubs while getting to know people who share your interests,” she said. “I’m a Theater major, and I enjoy singing and dancing … here, I had the chance to join UMW Symfonics, the acapella group—something I really wanted to try since I saw ‘Pitch Perfect.’”

Last semester, both Handwerk and Piasecki were part of the Performing Arts Company, and Piasecki will continue to dance with the Company during the spring semester. Meanwhile, Handwerk has opted for a change and is now part of the women’s rugby team.

On Feb. 1 at 5 p.m., Piasecki and I—as the respective French and Spanish VLCs—will host our first Overseas event in Combs 211. There, we will show photos and talk about Pays Basque Francais—a region that spans from the north of Spain to the south of France. Instead of using photos from the internet, we will show photos of the region provided by my friend from back home, Irati Diego. 

Additional information about the UMW Overseas project can be found on the @umwoverseas Instagram page.