Language interns: an important and underused Vassar resource

Courtesy of Anna Terry ’25.

Academic language interns serve as a crucial part of Vassar’s foreign language departments. They are a resource for students looking for help on papers, clarification on grammar topics or chances to chat with a friendly senior who has experience in a specific language.

Faculty members in their respective departments choose the language interns—senior Vassar students who have excelled in their foreign language. They spend a designated amount of hours per week working with students on assignments and grammar, as well as engaging in conversations to help students become more fluent foreign language speakers. Interns occasionally communicate with faculty members in their departments but, for the most part, work with students independently. 

Language intern for the Hispanic Studies Department Chloe Richards ’22 became an intern because she wanted to be part of a greater community within her major. Being connected to the Hispanic Studies Department in this way provides Richards the joy of feeling part of something greater, especially by working with students and helping with larger campus events. “It’s easy to take classes and then leave, but it’s so nice to feel like I’m in more of a community within the department,” she said. 

Dollar Zhu ’22, a language intern for the FFS Department, echoed Richards’ feeling of community. “I like teaching–being a language intern is a good way for me to give back to my department and engage with students.” 

French interns work closely with faculty members; the interns make lesson plans and send them to faculty in advance and are described as “junior colleagues” in the job description. Zhu described how working as an academic intern allows him to not only connect with students and faculty but to explore his creative side. “I’m a game designer, and for French, I’m making a game about French cuisine. It’s supposed to be a game that creates an informal speaking environment in a non-French speaking country.” He continued, “Being an academic intern gives me the necessary resources and access to professors and fellow students to express this creative side of mine.”

The FFS Department and the French language interns often host French-themed parties. In September, the department hosted a gathering where students chatted in French and made crêpes together. Zhu hopes to build even more community within the FFS Department, and would love to one day organize a group trip to New York City. 

Other departments hold similar programming events for their students: Language interns in the Hispanic Studies Department hold Café Sur, a weekly meeting for coffee and conversation in the Hispanic Studies Lounge. This enables students to casually practice their Spanish and interact with language interns apart from visiting them during office hours for more direct help on assignments. 

Clara Dandy ’22, a language intern for the German Studies Department, plans the department’s weekly event Kaffeeklatsch, where German students gather in the lounge in Chicago Hall, enjoy coffee together and speak some German. The theme of Kaffeeklatsch changes weekly and each event involves different aspects of German culture. 

As an intern, Dandy has been able to engage with the departmental community not only through current students and faculty members, but also by connecting with alumni. “The past couple of weeks, we have had students and alumni abroad [in Germany] zoom in and share their experiences with us, and earlier in the year we had an Oktoberfest themed klatsch,” she shared. In addition to planning the weekly Kaffeeklatsch, Dandy and the other department interns organize bigger events such as Winterfest and Grillfest, which occur annually. Winterfest is an evening event that usually takes place in early December and is designed to resemble an authentic German winter market, complete with music, freshly cooked German food, games and vendors. Grillfest is an end-of-the-year celebration with similar German cultural influence and foods. 

Language intern for the Italian Studies Department Robert Downes ’22 enjoys the community not only within his department, but between all of the foreign language departments. At the majors event this semester, where younger students were able to interact with upperclassmen in a variety of majors, the language departments were seated beside each other. “I was next to the Russian and French tables. We started talking, and now we want to organize a Eurovision language intern event. It’s nice that the Russian interns are right there, and then the French interns are right down the hall,” Downes explained. Italian Studies academic interns are also given the opportunity to work closely with faculty members. Downes described the supportive relationships he has formed with the professors in the Italian Studies Department: “Faculty will bring me into their office to have a conversation or they’ll ask me to make coffee for them.”

Besides organizing departmental events and helping faculty members, language interns are also resources for students in need of extra help. They all host weekly office hours in their respective language lounges in Chicago Hall. 

Despite the immense number of opportunities available for students to receive help or chat with language interns, Richards noted that very few students actually come during office hours. This is a change from when she was an underclassman and went to office hours frequently to seek help on essays and other assignments. She attributed this change to the fact that language intern office hours were held virtually last year due to COVID-19, leaving many students unaware that interns are available as a resource. 

Richards believes that it’s important for students to realize that these language interns are students too, and that even though it might be intimidating to ask for help in a different language, it doesn’t need to be intimidating. “I’m also still learning, I am not a native Spanish speaker and usually academic interns aren’t [native speakers]. I think if people realize that it’s less scary, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to ask for help.”

Language interns exist on Vassar’s campus for one main reason: to serve foreign language students. No matter the reason why or the extent to which you need help, these interns have the knowledge and resources to assist. At the end of the day, learning a language is a strenuous process and language interns understand that most of all.

 

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