Hurdling Cultural Barriers

I took two years of French language instruction at my alma mater. I was completely miserable for the first year. Speaking, writing, and understanding a foreign language seemed like trying to nail pudding to a wall. It just wouldn’t work. And I just didn’t get it. But then an extremely patient French professor took pity on my continued assaults on the language, ignored my attempts to murder pronunciation and grammar, and took the time to provide hours and hours of tutoring.

It worked. One day, it seemed to “click,” and once the mental switch was thrown, I seriously enjoyed the language. And to this day, I still embrace any opportunity to read or speak French.

Now, multiply my journey from frustration to fluency by a factor of 10, and you have some idea of what students from overseas might experience. In the cover story, writer Susan Vogel introduces the U’s English Language Institute, one of only a handful of programs in the U.S. designed to help students live and learn in the States. The young scholars coming to the U from distant places are all too eager to begin their studies here but face the daunting challenge of negotiating language barriers, cultural differences, and, sometimes, homesickness. But the U’s English Language Institute addresses all of those issues as it helps students from foreign lands negotiate the pitfalls of American English, differences in educational norms, and the social mores of living in the U.S. It is a highly successful program, and a model for other institutions that may be looking for ways to help acclimate their foreign students.

Anyone who has been married for more than three seconds will tell you that marriage is, in some ways, like attempting to live in a foreign land: You must learn to communicate effectively and to navigate the customs, habits, and traits of another human being. Journeying through this land is not for the faint of heart. Writer Kelley Lindberg introduces four couples who have not only exchanged wedding vows, but who also share a common employer—the U. The duos offer up some pearls of wisdom, applicable not only to relationships, but also to life and career. For example, Mateo Remsburg, director of High School Services and Student Recruitment, notes, “When you enjoy what you do at work, you bring that home with you.” Good advice for anybody.

Our third feature story offers a sampling of paintings by LeConte Stewart, a noted Utah artist and former chair of the U’s Art Department. The works are part of a generous bequest recently made to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts by the late Kent C. Day, and we’re pleased to showcase a few of these extraordinary pieces depicting the awesome landscape of the Western U.S.

This issue also features stories on Anne Peterson’s recently published book about the tenure and legacy of former U of U president A. Ray Olpin, as well as a profile of composer (and alumna) Marie Barker Nelson Bennett. And be sure to check out John Youngren’s piece on the “Fountain of Ute” for a lighthearted look at a U of U urban legend.

As always, we’d appreciate hearing your comments about these or any other stories you read in Continuum, so please keep ’em coming. E-mail me at, or drop me a line at 308 Park, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.


The color photo of the Marriott Library in the Fall 2009 issue of Continuum was taken by Sawyer Pangborn.

Sample Continuum’s new digital print edition here, where you’ll find everything that’s in the print version—perfect for those who prefer to do their reading electronically. Let us know what you think! (See contact info above.)

One thought on “Hurdling Cultural Barriers

  • I do agree that before marrying someone, especially if that someone has different culture, you must learn to communicate effectively and to navigate the customs, habits, and traits of your partner.

    Anna Marie

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