DMU students, staff and community members get a virtual “Taste of Language”

The Des Moines University’s Department of Global Health collaborated with the DMU Global Health Student Club and CultureALL, a nonprofit organization that provides cultural programming in Central Iowa, to host the second annual “A Taste of Language” event virtually on Oct. 28. Around 30 people participated in the Zoom event.

Participants had the opportunity to attend two 30-minute sessions to learn Mandarin, Spanish or Swahili and about the cultures of China, Mexico and Kenya. Although this year we could not gather in person, participants on DMU’s campus were able to pick up a meal from Summerfield’s, the on-campus café, prior to the event, including foods inspired by each culture. The menu consisted of Mandarin chicken, samosas with dipping sauces, churros and non-alcoholic sangria. 

The session began with a large group opening and welcome from Stacey Kimberlin, program director at CultureALL. Participants then were sent to breakout rooms where they had a 30-minute language and culture lesson. There was a five-minute break and then a second breakout session. The lessons were taught by CultureALL ambassadors Phoebe Liang D’Alessandro (Mandarin), Ana Rodriguez (Spanish) and Josie Shaw (Swahili). The goal was for participants to learn greetings and basic health care vocabulary as well as health care information as it relates to language and culture. Participants received handouts via email with key phrases in the languages they learned so that they can practice or review.

Taste of Language’s main opening session

At the end of the evening, everyone came back together in the main session to discuss what they had learned. Stacey Kimberlin led the period of reflection and asked participants to share “apology, achievement or aha” moments from the event. Natalie Lohmann, D.O.’24, shared, “During these times of online learning, it’s encouraging to have an event that makes you feel like you still got to travel while at home.”

Stacey Kimberlin has been involved in planning and organizing this event both years. “This was another successful Taste of Language! It was a joy to watch the participants engaged with the ambassadors and to observe their interactions,” she says. “Their eagerness for information about how best to serve their patients was clear. Thanks to the Global Health Student Club and Department of Global Health for their incredible partnership in support of this endeavor. It was a true pleasure to plan and facilitate with such a committed, focused, and uplifting group of folks. I look forward to next year!”

Ana Rodriguez, a CultureALL ambassador who has taught Spanish and about the culture of Mexico at this event both years, shared, “I love to work with DMU, and I feel humbled and grateful about the interest that the students show about my culture and my language. The organization of this kind of event helps to have a better and more understanding world.”

Participants in the Spanish session learn and discuss the language and health care.

Several others joined the event for the second year, including Rachel Doggett, M.S.P.A., PA-C, a 2015 graduate of DMU’s physician assistant program, a clinical instructor in family and internal medicine and a student in DMU’s master of public health program. 

“I was excited to hear that the event would continue this year after all the changes with the pandemic,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect having this event in a virtual format, but it went without a hitch! I found that the virtual format was easier for communication and participation. Students and faculty in different towns and states also had the ability to join this year. 

“As a practicing health care provider, events like this are extra important for patient care,” she added. “I learned about specific beliefs related to health care that are different across cultures, and I learned some phrases in different languages so I can develop friendships with my patients. I love any opportunity to grow in cultural awareness and competency.”

Other participants experienced the event for the first time. Mikayla Brockmeyer, D.O.’24, M.S.B.S.’19, signed up for the Taste of Language with two goals: to practice relevant medical terminology in Swahili and to learn the basics of Mandarin. She described her takeaways: “Cultural misconceptions were addressed by Ms. Josie Shaw, and I came away with a deeper understanding of Swahili-speaking individuals in addition to practicing the Swahili language. Mandarin Chinese is complex, but Ms. Phoebe Liang D’Alessandro broke it down in a digestible yet engaging manner. Both instructors did a wonderful job at providing a true ‘taste’ of their language, and I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted to learn more after the event came to a close for the evening.” 

Taste of Language offered a delicious way to learn.

Interest in learning about different cultures and languages to help serve their future patients was a theme among students. Jiyoon Song, D.O.’24, explained, “My big takeaway was that language is just a part of culture, a big one, but as a future clinician, even if learning new languages was not my strength, I can do a lot for my patients by taking these opportunities to learn about how differences in culture contribute to their understanding of health and medical care.”

Tess Schneider, D.O.’23, president of the Global Health Student Club, was involved in the event planning process. “The event was a great way to experience different foods and cultures from home. I gained valuable information about different patient populations we will care for in the future,” she reflected.

This event is offered annually every fall – we are looking forward to next year!

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