Every Thursday evening this term, a lively group of first-year students with a passion for learning foreign languages and cultures has gathered for global-themed activities jointly planned by MIT Global Languages and MISTI. This experimental virtual First-Year Learning Community (FLC), Tutmonda (Esperanto for “global”) was formed in response to the pivot to remote learning brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, shortly after it was decided that incoming first-year students would be remote in the fall term, the Office of the First Year (OFY) put out a call for departments to consider developing new means to welcome and support the Class of 2024 as they joined the MIT community virtually. The OFY welcomed ideas for initiatives to build community, introduce students to MIT, or develop “cohort-based” programming so new students would have opportunities to get to know each other in small groups. Thus, Tutmonda FLC was born.
Responding to the OFY call, Global Languages and MISTI joined together to propose a pilot for a global-themed FLC for AY2021, with the aim of creating community among incoming first-year students who viewed international experiences as integral to their MIT educations. Fifty students applied for this learning cohort, forty of whom were offered the opportunity to join Tutmonda. Students participating in the FLC enrolled either in a language class with MIT Global Languages or a related CI-H, and additionally agreed to attend weekly, noncredit meetings, led by Emma Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations, a member of the History Faculty, and Director of Global Languages. MISTI Executive Director, April Julich Perez, planned the activities jointly with Teng and Tutmonda student assistant, Ankita Devasia (MIT Class of 2023), while GL language instructors offered creative ideas and volunteered to lead sessions. First-year advising is provided through the OFY, and generous startup funding provided by the OVC.
The 36 students who participated in Tutmonda this fall are studying a wide range of languages including Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Quite a number of the students are bilingual, and there are several polyglots who have studied over five languages (including one who has studied Esperanto)! Students participated from multiple time zones across the continental US, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii, and as far afield as China, Ghana, Russia, Palestine, and Zimbabwe.
Once a week, students met for presentations and conversation. The weekly meetings were intended to enhance students’ language-learning experiences by extending their engagement with the cultures and societies where their target language is spoken, while also providing a global comparative context for their language and culture education. In addition, the theme of the global responses to the Covid-19 pandemic was addressed, including how policies and policy implementation are affected by culture. The weekly sessions included:
In addition to the in-class experiences, the faculty lead curated asynchronous materials to share each month, such as a Film of the Month, Virtual Museum of the Month, Puzzle of the Month, Classical Composer of the Month, Food of the Month and more, representing the nine language groups in MIT Global Languages. For example, to mark International Gingerbread Day, Teng created a post on the history and significance of this global food, featuring video clips of SHASS faculty from History and Literature speaking on topics from the medieval spice trade, to culinary customs and religious traditions in Europe, sugar and slavery in Haiti, gingerbread in children’s literature, and a sly gingerbread joke in Chaucer.
With generous support from MISTI Managing Directors, students in the learning community each received a care package with materials for the hands-on activities, a VR cardboard, and special treats such as Brazilian chocolate, Russian gingerbread, Chinese tea, and Spanish paella mix. The Wunsch Preservation Lab at MIT created a custom paper foldable for the students to create multilingual “puzzle purses” based on historical letterlocking techniques.
A student’s Fröbelstern