VU picked as a top college for foreign language study
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent September 1, 2012 4:21PM
Professor Randa Duvick speaks to students during an intermediate French language class at Valparaiso University Wednesday Aug. 29, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Top 10 schools for foreign
1. Middlebury College, Vermont
2. University of Wisconsin-Madison
3. University of California, Los Angeles
4. Stanford University, California
5. Yale University, Connecticut
6. Indiana University-Bloomington
7. University of Washington
8. Cornell University, New York
9. Valparaiso University
10. Columbia University, New York
Source: The Best Colleges, thebestcolleges.org
Updated: October 2, 2012 6:02AM
Valparaiso University ranks with Yale University, Stanford University, UCLA and Indiana University at Bloomington when it comes to teaching languages.
VU is ranked ninth in the10 Most Innovative Colleges for Foreign Language Study, a list on The Best Colleges, at thebestcolleges.org.
The university found out about its inclusion a couple of weeks ago.
“We’re very honored to be in that company, to be honest,” said Randa Duvick, chairwoman of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. “We did not know those folks were doing research on us, so we were pleasantly surprised.”
The website states it included VU not because of the breadth of its program but how it teaches.
“Unlike other schools on this list, Valpo doesn’t offer dozens of languages; it’s currently home to only six. But that doesn’t mean students should count it out as a great place to do some language learning, as the school has excellent resources and some pretty interesting programs for those languages,” the entry states.
The website lists the French and German foreign language dormitories and the Language Resource Center that “gives students a place to get tutoring, watch films, access audio, or just relax with a cup of coffee while they chat in a foreign language.”
Duvick gave other examples of how the school has been increasing its international focus, such as the Valparaiso International Engineering Program, which combines language and engineering and includes a year of study abroad, usually in German-, French-, Spanish- or Chinese-speaking countries.
Senior Sam Haines hadn’t heard of Valparaiso University before he began looking for a somewhere to pursue a double major in electrical engineering and German.
But after the university contacted Haines, the Valparaiso International Engineering Program appealed to him because of the working partnership between the two.
“No other university had that kind of combination,” he said. “That’s very rare to find in a university program.”
Haines already had some fluency in the language, having spent two years in Germany while in his teens, and he wanted to continue studying the language.
The McKinney, Texas, native intended to be able to work overseas or for an American company that could use his skills when dealing with international branches.
However, the university’s small size creates a sense of community among those learning.
“Size is what it comes down to,” Haines said. “It’s very personal. You get to develop a relationship with your classmates and even your professors.”
Although Haines is putting off his Germany internship for his fifth year instead of doing a fourth year abroad and then a final year at VU, he feels prepared already.
He spent last year in the German House, a dorm housing 12 U.S. students and one native German speaker each year. Students living there are required to speak only German in the common areas, such as at meals and in the first-floor cultural center where events are held.
Haines acknowledged how that has prepared his friends there for their overseas studies.
“You get used to being in a situation where you rely on your German skills,” he said.
VU also offers an international business major,which requires an internship abroad, as well as study-abroad programs, the Confucius Institute that connects with China, and the French and German conversation partner programs, where United States students meet with native speakers an hour a week for casual conversation.
“We’re offering a lot of various opportunities for our students to learn languages and put them into practice in their careers,” Duvick said. “Our students are preparing to live in a world that’s international in every way. Any careers they choose have international implications.”
Students see value
For pre-med senior Jake Stefan of Crystal Lake, Ill., 12 months of study and six months of working at a hospital in Tübingen, Germany, gave him a broader view of his intended field.
People in the United States are looking at the German health care system for improvement ideas, so that gave Stefan first-hand experience in what could be the future of his profession, he said.
He already knew about Valparaiso University because his parents attended, but he wanted a school where he could major in chemistry, biology and German.
Like Haines, he had studied German before and felt it would benefit his career because much of the world’s bio-technology work takes place in Germany.
But he also liked the study-abroad options, the German House and the focus on being international.
“It really increases your sensitivity to other cultures and backgrounds. That sometimes is lacking in a traditional science curriculum,” Stefan said.
The university’s focus on becoming international has also meant an increase in the number of foreign students.
“It’s been a priority for the last 6 to8 years, and the last 2 to 3 years, it’s come to fruition,” Duvick said.
Holly Singh, director of International Students and Scholars, said VU has its highest foreign enrollment this year with 150 students.
The goal is to have 15 to 20 percent of the student body come from other countries, he said.
Officials from The Best Colleges did not respond to email inquiries before deadline.