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House builds ’language precinct’
language house

“For U.Va. students, living in one of our language houses is about as close to an overseas experience as you can get without leaving Grounds.”

By Virginia E. Carter

Monday through Thursday evenings, the dining room at Monroe Lane Language House buzzes with the sounds of six languages. Dining together by language, students discuss events of the day in Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, Persian, Japanese, Chinese and Italian. English occasionally creeps in as well, especially on Wednesday evenings when residents are free to sit at different tables.

The diverse collection of languages distinguishes student life within the University’s newest language house and residence hall, which became home to 75 students at the beginning of this academic year. Located at the corner of Monroe Lane and Jefferson Park Avenue, Monroe Lane Language House sits near the French, Spanish and German houses. A fifth language house — the Russian House — is located on Cresap Road off Ivy Road.

Nearly doubling the total number of language house residents, the new facility strengthens the concept of a language precinct, where a distinctive international atmosphere is alive 24 hours a day. With nine languages (10 counting English) spoken in such close proximity, students can experience multiple languages and cultures in one small area of Grounds.

“Buy one, get five free,” said Bilal Qureshi in truth and in jest about the benefits of living in the new house. “We have become a tightly knit community in a short period of time,” said Qureshi, who, on this particular Friday afternoon, was socializing with Arabic-speaking residents and organizing promotional materials for a recent South Asian film festival.

Qureshi, a third-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences from Mechanicsville, lives in the Hindi/Urdu block of Monroe Lane Language House. Students’ rooms are grouped by language, with the three largest groups — 16 in each — studying Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. The smallest group includes four students who are perfecting their command of Persian.

Six students, selected by the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, serve as language assistants. Each is responsible for ensuring that residents predominantly speak their area language. To underscore this commitment, residents will be signing pledges promising to speak their target language when in their block of the house or when gathered elsewhere in the house with fellow language-block residents.

Programming is an important component of living in a language house, and thanks to the collaboration of the Housing Division and the Facilities Planning and Construction department, common spaces in the new facility were designed to accommodate a variety of enrichment activities. A library directly opposite the main entrance eventually will house books and periodicals in all six languages. A large meeting room can accommodate more than 100. Two smaller rooms are available for meetings, seminars or study group sessions. Sectional couches strategically placed in open areas throughout the building invite casual conversation or laid-back studying.

The dining room, which spans one side of the building, is ample enough to seat all residents as well as faculty and other University guests, who will be receiving regular dinner invitations.

Zeina Saliba, who lives at the new house and serves as head resident for all five houses, explained that meals offer another element of cultural programming.

Residents, she said, will be sharing their favorite recipes for ethnic cuisine with the chef, who is a member of ARAMARK’s staff and works out of a kitchen on site.

Joint social activities and cultural programs already have brought language house residents together. Saliba invited all residents to a block party, successfully initiating the new facility’s patio. Other activities have included a joint volleyball game and pre-football-game parties.

Lucas Hartley, a first-year law student and graduate adviser, and Enrico Cesaretti, house director and assistant professor of Italian, also play key roles in programming and house operations. Cesaretti, his wife and young daughter share a fourth-floor apartment.

“For U.Va. students, living in one of our language houses is about as close to an overseas experience as you can get without leaving Grounds,” said William B. Quandt, a politics professor and vice provost for international affairs. “The new Monroe Lane Language House will help to open doors to a whole range of fascinating languages and cultures. This will help to make U.Va. an increasingly international University.”


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