By Tripp Laino
Many of us love the idea of traveling the world to far-flung destinations and other tourist attractions. But in-between daydreams and vacations, you can also experience the multitude of cultures of our world without having to leave home.
That’s because Columbia Association’s multicultural programs include two great regularly occurring events: the monthly World Languages Café, which lets you practice a foreign language with other speakers, and the International Book Club, which discusses books with a foreign connection.
World Languages Cafe
Head to the East Columbia Library’s 50+ Center (6600 Cradlerock Way) between 7-9pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month, and you’ll hear various languages from around the world. But you haven’t found a secret United Nations headquarters — rather, it’s the monthly World Languages Café.
Pat Fisher has been attending the World Languages Café since it began in 2013. A native Spanish speaker, she uses the opportunity to practice other languages she’s learning.
“I attended regularly as a leader of the Spanish table at first, and later on I joined the French table and occasionally the Portuguese table,” she said. “I’ll try the Italian table next time I go.”
Fisher said she enjoys meeting people with similar interests — traveling, languages and cultural exchanges, without the pressures that come with learning languages formally.
“I’ve met people from all over and had good conversations with them on all sorts of topics,” she said. “There’s no homework to hand in and no grades to get, just an opportunity to have a good time with like-minded people once a month.”
Fellow attendee Valerie Montague has also been attending for years to practice her Spanish.
“The table hosts are patient, and I can practice with other advanced beginners,” she said. “The cafe (and CA’s other International programs) celebrates the diversity of Columbia. These programs show immigrants and others who treasure their ethnic heritage that their cultures are appreciated and respected here in Columbia.”
International Book Club
The World Languages Cafe isn’t the only way CA helps you travel the globe from right here in Columbia. The other monthly event is the International Book Club, which meets at 7:30pm on the second Wednesday of the month at CA headquarters (6310 Hillside Court).
Lucie Geinzer has been a participant for a few years, joining after a book club she’d organized in her neighborhood had fizzled. Through CA, she has found a strong community of enthusiasts.
“It was worthwhile attending any month because you could rely on the fact that at least half a dozen people, and sometimes three times that many would show up,” she said. “There are times we haven’t had enough chairs!”
She attributes the success of the book club — which chooses a book from a different part of the world each month — to the diverse community in Columbia.
“There are people here who’ve been all over the world — it’s a very multicultural place,” she said. “We can usually find someone that has a background in that country to discuss whether the book correctly reflects the feeling of that country. It allows you to get a feel or better understanding for other places in the world, or other times in other countries.”
To learn more about these programs, as well as CA’s exchange programs
with Columbia’s four sister cities, visit ColumbiaAssociation.org/multicultural.