DMU students, staff and community members get “a taste of language” at Global Health cultural event

Knowing a few words in a language and learning about someone’s culture can go a long way toward connecting with people. The Department of Global Health collaborated with the Global Health Student Club and CultureALL, a non-profit organization that provides cultural programming in central Iowa, to host “A Taste of Language” at DMU on Nov. 4.  Around 40 people attended the event.

Participants began the evening with food catered by Summerfield’s, DMU’s campus cafeteria and food service, and a brief introduction and welcome to the event. Following the opening, there were four breakout sessions where participants could learn Arabic, Burmese, Spanish or Swahili and about the cultures of Morocco, Burma, Mexico and Kenya.  Each breakout session was 25 minutes with a five-minute break in between. Participants had the opportunity to attend two different sessions. The mini-lessons were taught by CultureALL ambassadors Sherifa El Azizi (Arabic), Dar Lian (Burmese), Ana Rodriguez (Spanish) and Ruth Mwangangi (Swahili). Although 25 minutes is not a long time, the goal was for participants to learn greetings and basic health care vocabulary as well as health care information as related to language and culture. Participants took home handouts with key phrases in the languages they learned so that they can practice or review.

CultureALL Ambassador Ana Rodriguez speaks at the Taste of Language event.

Lexie Cross, DO’22, president of Medical Students for Latino Health at DMU, found the breakout sessions useful. “I currently teach ESL, and many of my students are Burmese.  I thought being able to connect with my ESL students in their own language and learning about their culture would help build our relationship as teacher and student,” she explained.

Misty Schwieso, a certified medical assistant in the DMU Family Medicine Clinic, said she was excited to attend this event: “We have so many patients who come through the clinic from some of these countries that were discussed. I thought this would be helpful to learn about their different cultures and learn to communicate a little with them. I found this event fun and learned so much in the little bit of time that we spent with each of the ambassadors. I am hoping to attend another event, and I know this will be helpful for the clinic if this is available again. The food was amazing!”

At the end of the evening, everyone came back together in a large group to discuss what they had learned. Participants each wrote something they learned on sticky notes and then put the sticky notes on a “tree of knowledge.” They also had the opportunity to reflect on what they would start, stop, continue or change after attending this event.

Global Health Student Club President Kristine Zimmerman, DO’22, who was involved in the event planning process, said she plans to continue building on what she learned. “This event piqued my curiosity to continue to learn about other languages and cultures, especially concerning topics of health care and medicine.”

Event co-organizer Stacey Kimberlin, program director at CultureALL, commented, “Witnessing students who were open, engaged and affable throughout the event made the evening a true delight for me. And kudos to the caterers for providing such a delicious assortment of cultural foods.”

Current and future health care providers who participated in a Taste of Language saw the value in learning languages and cultural information when connecting with their patients. “I am a practicing medical provider at DMU’s Family Medicine Clinic, and I have had the opportunity to see a large population of refugee patients, most of whom speak Burmese and Swahili,” commented Rachel Doggett, PA-C, a clinical instructor in family and internal medicine. “The Taste of Language event was the perfect mixture of culture blending, language learning and fun. I now feel that I can say a few phrases to my patients and further strengthen the patient-provider relationship. As an already-practicing clinician, it was also inspiring to learn along with DMU’s medical students and share this love of culture and acceptance.”

We hope to offer this event again featuring additional languages and cultures – at minimum, once per year.

Sondra Schreiber

Director of Global Health

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