Celebrating diversity and cultural connections

At "Heritage Meets Heritage" event, MIT students enjoy conversations, trivia, and delicacies from around the world

Pictured left to right, MIT students Anica Liu, Margaret Yu, and Angela Li enjoy food and laughs at the Heritage Meets Heritage event. Photo by Jodi Hilton

"I witnessed our community—teachers and students alike—coming together to celebrate our differences while also recognizing our similarities​."

— Min-Min Liang

The aroma of global delicacies filled MIT’s Bush Room, as students made cultural connections and answered trivia questions at the third “Heritage Meets Heritage” event.

The event is organized by MIT Global Languages, and has become a tradition. It was first held in the Spring of 2022, and again in the Fall of 2022. The third event, held Oct. 19, continued in the same theme: celebrating the diversity and culture of the MIT community.

The event is co-sponsored by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) and Hermanas Unidas.

Annabel Tiong, a freshman studying biological engineering, is taking Chinese this semester, and came to meet other students taking Chinese.

"But I also wanted to see some of the other languages that are available. I knew a lot of other students from other language classes would be here. So it was a good chance to meet them,” she said.

Tiong is Chinese herself and grew up speaking the language, but she never knew how to read or write Chinese. She’s taking the Chinese streamlined class, and hopes it will help her with communicating in Chinese with her parents over text and email.

While enjoying an empanada, Tiong said the event helped her learn about other cultures. 

"Some of the people at my table are from Korea and they were telling me about Korean traditions. I didn’t realize how similar they were to Chinese traditions. It was great to make those kinds of connections,” she said.

Students shared stories about their cultural backgrounds at the Heritage Meets Heritage event. Photo by Jodi Hilton.

Min-Min Liang, a lecturer in Chinese, said she had no idea how the event would go when she helped launch it in 2022. She saw it as a way to highlight the beauty of diversity among the MIT community.

"My intention back then, as it is now, was to bring everyone together,” she said.

She says with the tremendous support from the Global Languages department and all instructors from each language group, the third event was a success. 

"I witnessed our community—teachers and students alike—coming together to celebrate our differences while also recognizing our similarities,” she said.

Students sat in groups at desks throughout the room, and between rounds of trivia questions, they took time to discuss various topics which presented opportunities to share something unique about their respective heritage.

Some of the discussion topics included: 

  • How is love and appreciation celebrated in your culture?” 

  • Do you consider yourself biracial? If so, how is this expressed?” 

  • On what holidays do people give gifts to each other in your culture?” 

Nilma Dominique, a lecturer in Portuguese, serves food to students at the Heritage Meets Heritage event. Photo by Jodi Hilton.

At the end of the event, everyone in attendance enjoyed samplings of the food, from pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls), to baklava.

First-year student Nielsen Euvard says he enjoyed making connections with the other language departments at MIT and with MISTI. And he found the conversations with other students insightful.

"The discussion activities were really great for my friends and I to reflect on ourselves and how our cultural backgrounds shape our decisions. And the variety of food was great,” he said.

Brian Carrick, a second year PhD student in chemical engineering, is taking Portuguese this semester. He isn’t a heritage speaker, but attended the event to learn more about the global experiences of those within the MIT community.

"It was so fun to learn about just a few of the cultural celebrations and experiences that other students grew up with. It really puts a bigger picture into perspective,” he said.

Emily Goodling, a German language lecturer, helps to organize the event. She says “Heritage Meets Heritage” reveals a sort of deeper purpose behind the learning and teaching of languages that happens in Global Languages: that of bringing people together, of creating community across national borders and linguistic barriers. 

"It was incredible to see students from so many different backgrounds in a single room, having meaningful conversations about what it means to participate in multiple cultures,” says Goodling. “I think this mirrors what happens when we learn languages: we grow our ability to communicate empathetically and authentically with people who are different than us. And that is vitally important right now.”

Maria Khotimsky, a senior lecturer in Russian, also helps to organize the event.

"Heritage Meets Heritage is a unique event that brings MIT students for meaningful conversations about languages and cultures, and a feast of treats from around the world,” says Khotimsky. “It is also a testament to the camaraderie and the incredible teamwork of Global Languages lecturers and staff who work together to make this event possible."

Khotimsky says they plan to host the event annually each fall semester.

Michael Brindley | MIT Global Languages