Instructor marvels at benefits of multiple language study

V.L. Ben Peterson - Instructor of Foreign Languages

V.L. Ben Peterson – Instructor of Foreign Languages

The phone rang and I heard, ” Ben, how ya doing’… We haven’t talked for so long, how ’bout I buy you lunch?”

That call came to me five years ago. It was Dr. Jay Moorman, head of communications, at Missouri Southern. I guessed he might ask me to teach again. He did, and though I had retired in 1996, I knew I would say yes. Both my wife and I knew I had failed retirement, and like John Fogerty’s song, I was thinking, “Send me in coach, I’m ready to play -today.”

My enthusiasm rose immediately and is still climbing. But, it gets better, because it’s a new world out here at the University, since the CBHE commissioned Southern to undertake a huge and fast growing international mission. Now there are many more native speakers in the Spanish classes. The frosting on the cake is the opportunity to teach advanced courses in my own specialized “Field of Dreams:” literature, civilization/culture and phonology, with some syntax. I had retired because a full load had become difficult, but now the pace seems right, and I honestly think I’m at the top of my game.

But, there’s more. It’s called fulfillment, a fit, both academically and socially. In 1951, I left my small town and my senior class of 16 and went off to get an education. I had visited Graceland University only once before to attend a Sino-Japanese Institute.

While there, I also noticed a banner that read, “Amistad Mundial,” (World Friendship) although at the time I didn’t know the translation. My advisor counseled me not to take a foreign language, as it would take so much time and work. Fortunately, I enrolled in a course, religions of the world, and was challenged by my professor’s ideas about the values of the great civilizers and the faiths of mankind. Three years later, when I was in the military, stationed in San Antonio, many of my barracks’ friends were Latinos from Panama, Puerto Rico, California and elsewhere, and they spoke Spanish to each other. I soon enrolled in a night course with San Antonio College held on my post. I soon discovered that the city itself was very Hispanic, and on my free time I went to down town to see films in Spanish, and also to church where many people were Hispanic (Mexican Americans) who at the time called themselves Latinos. Often, I was invited to their homes where I heard more Spanish … And now, jumping to the present — Wow, here I am in the midst of the Mexican Semester, with more events and lectures and films than I can possibly attend.

But, my story gets better, because the number of students enrolled is so much larger than when I left, and there are so many teachers, native speakers mostly, who by their presence, words and culturally diverse ways teach me so much. I am very privileged to be here to take an active role in this wonderful enterprise of intellectual, social, cultural, and spiritual development. My office mate this year teaches Arabic, and comes from Morocco as a Fullbright scholar, who frequently speaks to me in French, and shares with me his ideas of Islam, and of his life. Wasn’t it fortuitous that last year I was assigned and taught the course in the history of Iberia, which included the eight centuries of Arab rule and a close look into the life of Mohammed and the Koran? One of my newest friends, Madame Dubuis, a professor from France, allows me time to practice French with her. And, just today, professor Ho, who teaches Chinese and Japanese, greeted me in the hall in Spanish, because he appreciates my help in teaching him basic greetings, and occasionally I utter a Japanese phrase or two to him, like, “It’s hot, isn’t it?”

One day we spoke at length about his background, family, education, and his Buddhist heritage and I saw and felt the depth of his heart and mind, and the breadth of his world. Doesn’t it make you want to get in the game, to play, learn and develop the knowledge and skills that are a bridge to peace? Anyone who believes in the future may join in this adventure. I am surrounded, not accosted, by students who are Jewish or Christian from Ozark Christian College or Messenger College and from other religious persuasions. So, it becomes quickly apparent that something very big, very important is happening here. The young man who asked me to write this in perspective note became my friend, because I spoke a phrase to him in German, the language he is studying. I know only a few phrases in German, but they were enough to begin to build a friendship … I will end here with Amistad Mundial- that’s where the best of the future and the global family begins.