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Meet the international students leading language houses on the Hill

Students of French, Spanish, and Arabic get the study abroad experience while living in language houses on the Hill. Meet the international students who are serving as house directors and studying at McDaniel for the 2022-2023 year.

Group photo of 2023 Arabic house students.

Students in the Arabic house can participate in conversation hours and learn about Middle Eastern culture while staying on campus.

Anyone who’s learned a new language knows that persistence is key. But that can be hard when your daily go-to is still your primary language.

At McDaniel, 30% of students fly out to more than 50 countries to study, learn about a culture, and practice a language. Or, they can learn stateside in an on-campus language house.

The Arabic, French, and Spanish language houses are three gems on campus that offer immersive learning environments. In fact, each one is led by an international student-director.

The student-directors travel from universities in France, the West Bank, and Argentina to lead the language houses while studying at McDaniel for a year. For many, it’s their first time in the U.S.

“It’s a great way for them to live in a new culture, improve their English for job positions back home, and work toward their degrees,” says Professor Martine Motard-Noar, who coordinates the language houses.

“I want the students to feel at home, but I blend in Arabic culture to make them feel like they’re actually studying abroad."

Dana Hosh

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted international travel in 2020, and those effects lingered until the fall of 2022. By then, travel conditions were so improved that every French-studying student traveled abroad, so the French house wasn’t necessary for the 2022-2023 academic year. But the Arabic and Spanish houses have fully returned.

Meet the directors

Dana Hosh, the Arabic house director, is a junior Business Administration student at the University of Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestine. Back home, Hosh worked as a student ambassador at her university, introducing study abroad students to Bethlehem.

“I took the McDaniel opportunity immediately,” Hosh says, “because I wanted to meet new people and learn different cultures and languages.”

The Spanish house is led by Agostina Amaya, a recent graduate of the National University of Córdoba, located in the city of Córdoba in central Argentina. She has worked as a translator and teaching assistant and interned with the United Nations.

McDaniel was another chance to put her knowledge into action. “I wanted to fully dedicate my time to studying, helping students practice Spanish outside of class, and being with the students,” Amaya says.

"My favorite part of the Arabic house is the director’s commitment to helping each of us learn and grow in speaking and cultural comprehension. My first house director, Ramiz, met me at a very early stage in my Arabic education and grew me into a solid speaker and competent learner of the language. My second house director, Dana, impressed upon me the importance of listening comprehension and helped me excel when it came to understanding the different dialects across the Arab world. I owe them a great deal for any success I’ll have in this language, and I hope that future Green Terrors take advantage of this opportunity like I did.”

Junior Kramoh Mansalay, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies Major with a Linguistics Specialization and a Biomedical Science Major with minors in Biology and Chemistry.

Cultural conversations are a chance to share and connect

To refresh their fluency daily, students must speak the house language anytime they’re in the residence. A hello in the hallway becomes bonjour, hola, or marhaban, and learning how to say “chicken tender Thursday” in a second language becomes crucial for discussing dinner plans.

Fortunately, the house directors help students find the right words. Each week, they gather in the common room for conversation hours centered on cultural topics.

“If you meet a Lebanese person and then you meet me, a Palestinian person, you won’t understand either one of us, because we don’t speak the formal Arabic that you learn as a beginner,” Hosh says. With this in mind, Hosh accommodates beginner and advanced students in the Arabic house so they can all join the conversation.

When introducing new words, Amaya will “talk about a topic that interests house residents, so that they all get the chance to say something.” Whether it's movies, food, or fashion, “I always relate it back to the culture in Argentina,” Amaya says.

“What I love about the language house is everyone’s passion for Arabic and how beautiful the cultures are that represent Arabic. I’ve learned a lot about the culture and the people thanks to this house.”

Destiny Houston, junior Biology major with a minor in Arabic.

Hosh taught Arabic house students a traditional Palestinian Dabke dance, cooked Arabic dishes with them, and shared a Bedouin film.

“I want the students to feel at home, but I blend in Arabic culture to make them feel like they’re actually studying abroad,” Hosh says.

What it’s like to experience the American college life for the first time

While social media and movies are windows into American culture, reality is a different matter. When Amaya first went to Target, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “It was overwhelming, since supermarkets are much smaller in Argentina,” she says.

Hosh says she’s “experiencing the college life,” since she had never stayed in a residence hall before arriving on the Hill. “It’s living your life alone but not alone at the same time. It’s amazing that students have that here,” Hosh says.

In the language houses, cultural exchange goes both ways, and a large part of McDaniel is academics — and the liberal arts can be another surprise. In Bethlehem and Córdoba, students choose a related major and minor, and their classes all relate to one subject.

“I have a student in my language house who’s studying Biology and Arabic, which are so different!” Hosh says. During their year on the Hill, Hosh and Amaya can enroll in courses that spark their interest.

"I’ve learned cultural differences, essential vocabulary for everyday life, and some helpful slang. My language skills have improved a lot.”

Mina Valeri, sophomore Arabic major.

But studying abroad is not all about academics. International students can socialize and sightsee on organized outings beyond Westminster, and friends provide chances to sojourn off campus; Amaya likes to rollerblade at Westminster Skate Park.

For Hosh, traveling freely is a new experience. To fly to the U.S., Hosh had to take a plane from Jordan because of restrictions on Palestinian individuals.

“When you’re in Palestine, it’s very complicated to move from one place to another,” Hosh says. “I hold a Palestinian ID, so I have to be checked, have a certain permit, and I can’t go through Jerusalem except on specific days and times. Here, you just get in your car and go wherever you want.”

“McDaniel changed my life,” says former French house director

McDaniel’s international students form connections that bridge oceans. Motard-Noar says that Laure Lucas, French house director from 2014-2015, provided a home away from home to students visiting Paris during and after their time at McDaniel.

Lucas stayed in touch with Mariah Ligas ’16, M.S. ’17, Clarissa Balint ’16, Cicely Hazell ’15, Jaime Calderon ’17, Taylor Sabatano ’16, and Katherine Stein ’15 after her term as director ended, and even hosted some of them in France for Jan Term and other visits.

“Being at McDaniel changed my life, and I’m not saying that lightly,” Lucas says. “I think about what I learned there every day. I wouldn’t have become the adult that I am now without it.”

She studied English and American studies at University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée and pursued a master’s in education at Paris Diderot University. “What made the difference and allowed me to get into a selective program in Paris was my experience at McDaniel,” she says.

She still remembers the moment when, after speaking to a French class on the Hill, a student told her that she should do it for a living. “I cried and called my mother and said, ‘Okay, I want to be a teacher.’ And I have been for five years now,” says Lucas, who teaches high school English in Bussy-Saint-Georges, France.

By the time the international directors return home, adiós, au revoir, or ma’a salama come as naturally to their house residents as saying goodbye.

“Being at McDaniel changed my life, and I’m not saying that lightly. I think about what I learned there every day. I wouldn’t have become the adult that I am now without it.”

Laure Lucas, former French house director