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Cultivating advanced language learning
Michele Regenold ’89

Emily Ricker ’18 knew she could “get away with speaking English” during her 2016 summer internship in Pohnpei, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia. But when she learned she could add a language component to her summer internship, Ricker said yes.

Although the anthropology and political science double-major doesn’t consider herself particularly good at learning languages, she has some background in them. She studied Latin in middle school and took four years of Spanish in high school and three semesters of Arabic at Grinnell.

To learn Pohnpeian, Ricker met with her tutor, Koadendel, a few times a week. 

“I’d show up and sit on the porch for a couple of hours and chat,” Ricker says. Her tutor’s husband and children were often present and occasionally joined the conversation. “I can’t overemphasize the amount of social bonding and cultural learning.

“I learned a lot of basics, basic verbs, walking, hanging out, going to work, nouns for church. I also went to church services completely in Pohnpeian and got to the point where I could understand some of what was being said by others and could participate in greetings. 

“Without the language tutoring, the internship and experience as a whole would not have been nearly as rich, and I am beyond grateful for the wonderful opportunity,” Ricker says.

She put her basic Pohnpeian to use the next summer when she did a Mentored Advanced Project on the experiences of Pohnpeian migrants to the Midwest. Being able to say “hello” in their language “was sort of an in,” Ricker says. 

That’s the kind of cultural connection that Joel ’65 and Nancy Shinder hope to foster with their newly named Shinder Family Fund for Advanced Language Development. They originally endowed the fund anonymously in 2003 and recently decided to name it. “I began to think that if you put your name on it, that you tell the world that you care about it,” Joel Shinder says. 

“Language is so important,” he says. “I feel it’s even more of an imperative today.” 

He credits his interest in languages to his maternal grandfather, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, perhaps near Minsk, where many languages were spoken. His grandfather spoke and wrote several. 

“It’s not just the language itself, it’s the culture,” Shinder says. “The first thing you learn in a language is the way you think about things.”

He learned several languages, beginning as a child with Hebrew, then Latin and Russian in high school. “Russian, because of the Sputnik fear,” he says. He studied German and French at Grinnell, where he majored in history. 

He was interested in Middle Eastern histories and earned a doctorate from Princeton University. “Once you get interested in an area, you really have to do the languages,” he says. He studied Arabic and Turkish in graduate school and figured out some Spanish, Italian, Persian, and Greek as needed for research while studying Ottoman-Turkish. 

Nancy Shinder was an enthusiastic student of French and Polish and traveled to both France and Poland. She wants students to have the advantage of a good grounding in another language and culture. 

Student Eligibility

The Shinder Family Fund for Advanced Language Development is designed to support students 

who’ve completed two years (or the equivalent) of a non-native language. The Shinders would like students to benefit from advanced studies or applied experiences, such as internships or immersive language research. However, the fund will not apply to traditional, semester-long off-campus study.  

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