Crossing Cultures Through Language

Jane and Tad Gilmore

Jane and Tad Gilmore

It's difficult to learn and retain a second language without practicing it regularly. That's where Greeley's Tad and Jane Gilmore, who volunteer their time holding conversation groups for international students at UNC, come in.

Some international students who arrive at UNC with English as their second language haven't had opportunities to practice their English in academic or social settings. As the saying goes, "If you don't use it, you lose it."

The Gilmores speak multiple languages and have lived in Nepal for eight years and Swaziland for two. They've both experienced first-hand the communication challenges that come with living abroad and having language limitations. It's what inspired them to lend a helping hand.

The Gilmores believe that language is primarily about relationships and is the main prerequisite to being able to immerse into a different culture.

"My husband and I have learned two languages as adults...one of them after we were 50 years old," Jane said. "It was incredibly difficult for us but we learned. Crossing cultures, especially into Nepal and Africa where we were so incredibly different in every way, and the adaptations we had to make to be at home there, made us keenly aware of what international students go through to be here.

"It's our hearts' desire to give them as many tools as we can for them to be successful. One tool is language and the gift of conversation in a safe environment."

Besides holding conversation groups, the Gilmores also help welcome many of UNC's international students at Denver International Airport, drive them to Greeley and provide them with an introduction to the campus and American culture.

They also host social events at their home for the students, including a night of games, desserts and fireworks viewing on the Fourth of July.

The Gilmores work with UNC's Center for International Education, which in addition to providing a variety of services and activities for international students, provides study abroad and student exchange opportunities for American students and organizes events such as International Week to promote international education.

International and American students alike benefit from the center's International Ambassador program, which teams an international student with an American student. The American student learns about a different culture while showing an international student how to thrive at UNC and in Greeley.

According to Mathes Paulus, an exchange student from Germany, having a command of English is important in today's world.

"I think it's a great thing to be able to speak more than just one language because it makes international communication so much easier," Paulus said. "English is the language of the world that's spoken right now because it's so popular. I am able to speak with people all over the world."

UNC celebrates diversity by welcoming students from all around the world. Approximately 300 students representing nearly 50 countries will attend UNC during the 2011-12 academic year, and they'll enrich the campus and community by sharing their cultures through a variety of languages, including English, thanks to people like the Gilmores.

- Fiza Johari

Related Content: Video excerpts of interviews with the Gilmores and German exchange student Mathes Paulus.

More about UNC's Center for International Education