July 14, 2011 — About 160 students from the University of Virginia's Summer Language Institute gathered Monday evening in the garden of Pavilion VIII, enduring the sweltering July heat as they waited for their activity to begin.
The institute offers college and high school students and adults eight weeks of intense study in nine languages, for which they earn two years of college credit (except for those taking Chinese and Arabic, who earn one year). The evening event – the inaugural Summer Language Institute Hunt – was part of the institute's cultural programming.
The French students, wearing red, white and blue sashes across their chests, broke into "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. The Latin team gathered around two eagle-topped standards that also sported a U.Va. emblem on the staff; the Tibetan team carried a string of five colorful flags symbolizing environmental protection, and one member wore maroon Buddhist robes.
Each group, representing one of the institute's languages – French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian, Spanish, Tibetan, Chinese and Arabic – built camaraderie and excitement as they awaited the whistle to start the hunt.
Coming four weeks into the program, the event was designed as much to meet and socialize with fellow summer language students as to practice language skills.
Institute coordinator Caren Freeman said the event was loosely based on the successful annual Washington Post Hunt in D.C. The instructors met to create the rules and generate ideas for the puzzles and clues, which were based on some cultural aspect associated with the studied languages.
Clues were presented to the teams in their language of study; when the students arrived at each location, they were given a puzzle to solve. They could converse only with their teammates in their target language during the hunt. The lone exception was for the Latin students, who spoke English but were given an additional task: Translate "The Good Ol' Song" into Latin.
Alyssa Miller, a third-year anthropology student in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, plans to study classical anthropology in Italy. Studying Latin, she said, would help with translating inscriptions on buildings and ruins. She appreciated that after only four weeks of Latin, there were just a few phrases of "The Good Ol' Song" that were a challenge.
The other teams could use English only to ask the Chinese students for the answer to one clue – name the three friends in the Chinese Summer Language Institute textbook.
The Italian puzzle was about an iconic U.Va. place – "This place looks like the Pantheon in Rome, go there and find yourselves at home!" (It led to the Rotunda.) Once there, they were given the clue to name three ingredients for pizza – in Italian.
The Chinese and German teams arrived at the Rotunda at the same time. The German team quickly Googled the pizza ingredients, conferred with Italian instructor Adele Sanna that they had the correct Italian words, and both teams jotted them on their answer sheets before hurrying off to their next puzzle location.
The German clue sent the teams to Old Cabell Hall, where they heard a piano playing and had to identify Mozart's "Don Giovanni."
The Latin clue – "This ancient poet was said to be blind, Go to his statue and see what you find" – led the teams to the statue of Homer on Lawn, where the secret clue was to identify the Roman poet who claimed to be Homer reincarnated. The answer: Ennius.
The Arabic group's clue sent them to Clemons Library, where the question was: "What is the word for book in Arabic?"
To compensate for the one-year format of the Arabic program, the Arabic student team included some guests. Helping them decipher the puzzles and clues were six students from the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University for Women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who are visiting U.Va. for a month-long intensive international language and culture program to learn about American higher education, taught by Jane Boatner, an English as a Second Language instructor at U.Va.
Saudi student Ohud Alshammari said she has always wanted to teach, and the scavenger hunt offered a chance to help the team with their Arabic.
Fauquier County High School student Alex Crocker especially appreciated interacting with the Saudi students and hearing native speakers. He said he has long had an interest in Arabic, and he's looking to "pick up a language and knock out some college classes."
After spending a month at U.Va., "It's definitely a prospect as a school I'm interested in applying to," said the rising senior.
May Engineering School graduate Andrew Keith, a second lieutenant in the Air Force, said Arabic will help him interact with native speakers. He's one of a number of institute students attending the program on a Defense Department "Project Go" scholarship.
Rising second-year computer engineering student Caleb Gross said the scavenger hunt was an opportunity "to be able to use the language in a real situation rather than the hypothetical ones in class."
For James Madison University student Marshall Masterson, the motivation for taking Arabic is personal. He wants to communicate better with his Lebanese grandmother, who speaks only Arabic. Currently they struggle with hand gestures and a few words each knows in the other's language, or must rely on Masterson's mother to translate.
Third-year College student David Berry, a transfer student from Lord Fairfax Community College, is working on fulfilling the language requirement for his Chinese major, since the language was not offered at the community college.
"I'm behind in my major, so this program provides a good opportunity to catch up," he said. He plans to become a professor or translator with international organizations or the government.
Graduate music student Courtney Kleftis is focusing her studies on opera. She is learning Italian to help in her studies of the Mozart's operas.
The Spanish team was the first to return to the garden, and had all of the correct answers to the clues. The reward? A "monster trophy" from the U.Va. Bookstore, which will be passed on to next year's scavenger hunt winners. They also won a breakfast of doughnuts and coffee to be delivered to their classroom.
Keeping with the international theme, the teams enjoyed a dinner of Chinese noodles and dumplings in the garden.