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iMedia students travel to the Netherlands to help connect people and cultures through language

During their Winter Term “fly-in” experience, seven graduate students in the Interactive Media master’s program traveled to Western Europe, filming a short documentary and gathering multimedia content to promote a community space dedicated to minority languages. 

As part of their Winter Term course Interactive Project for the Public Good, seven iMedia students spent part of January exploring the streets of Leeuwarden, Netherlands. It was an opportunity for the students to interact with individuals from different cultures, communities and backgrounds. While the city in northern Holland certainly provided a beautiful backdrop, the 10-day excursion was a work trip for these graduate students.

As part of their Interactive Project for the Public Good class, iMedia students produced a three-minute documentary to highlight language diversity in Europe. Pictured (from left) are Rhett Lawson, Iria Flavia, Carlos Diaz, Jessica Farmer and Case Gardner. Flavia and Diaz were interviewed for the film.

During their time abroad, the team collaborated with Afûk, a public benefit organization striving to promote the knowledge and use of the Frisian language. The students’ work was focused on Afûk’s language pavilion project, referred to as the “living room of languages.” The community space is dedicated to promoting lesser-known languages from across Europe, regional languages and dialects from the Netherlands, and minority languages spoken in Leeuwarden.

The pavilion is constructed in the shape of two female figures, with each figure representing the two mother languages within the pavilion, Dutch and Frisian. This pavilion will be part of the European Capital of Culture celebration scheduled for later this year in Leeuwarden. In total, nearly 30 different linguistic communities are expected to be represented at the language pavilion throughout the course of the celebration.

To emphasize interactions and expressions in different languages, the Elon student team – self-named “Team Life Through Language” – created a three-minute documentary that will be featured in the pavilion. For the film, the group interviewed 12 individuals who collectively spoke 17 different languages, including Asturian, Dutch, Frisian, Catalan, Urdu, Vietnamese and Dutch Sign Language.

Mirjam Villenga (second from right) leads a group of iMedia students through the streets of Leeuwarden, Netherlands.

​Accompanied by Assistant Professor Doug Kass and Associate Professor Derek Lackaff, the student team consisted of project manager Jessica Farmer '16, video editor and producer Kelsey Lane '17, videographer and producer Rhett Lawson '17, videographer Case Gardner, assistant videographer Tavarius Felton, graphic designer Amanda Travis and graphic designer/social media specialist Imoni Tull.

"The aim of the video is to show the language diversity in Ljouwert-Leeuwarden, Fryslân and Europe and make the visitors of the language pavilion aware of that,” said Mirjam Vellinga, Afûk’s project manager. “When someone doesn’t speak your language that well or with a distinct accent, that doesn’t mean that that person is stupid, but that he or she speaks another language very well and that language is probably the language of his or her heart. When you realize that it gives you a whole new perspective.”

The students also gained a new perspective while collaborating with their client.

"Working with Afûk gave me the chance to really put my skills with video production and editing to the test in a professional setting,” Gardner said. “I had never worked with a professional client before the trip, and now that I have that experience, I feel much more prepared to take on those kinds of jobs once I graduate.”

iMedia student Kelsey Lane snaps a few photos while exploring Leeuwarden.

​Vellinga instructed the students to create a documentary that was heartfelt and could teach others about the many unique languages in Europe.

“The questions during each interview for the documentary did just that,” Felton said. “They brought out emotions and smiles from people of unique backgrounds. There were a couple of questions that were more emotional than others and one could feel the love for their language in the response. One of those questions was, ‘how does your language make you feel?’”

Sylke Kingma, a student in Leeuwarden who speaks Frisian, Dutch and English, provided an enlightening response to that question during her interview. “Well, I think it’s [Frisian] a beautiful language. I think what makes it that beautiful is because it’s that small. So, it’s just special. And I think it’s really beautiful if you can really manage the language and speak it very fluently,” she said. 

Working with a wide variety of languages was exciting for the team, but it also brought with it a number of challenges. “One of the greatest parts of this project was having the opportunity to interact with so many different languages. It definitely proved to be quite a big challenge though,” Lane said. “Having to accurately cut footage in a multitude of languages was far from easy, but we pulled it off and it proved to be a fantastic learning experience for all of us.”

To support the documentary, the students created a poster to promote the film and share more information about the interviewees. The poster features each interviewee, the languages they speak and their favorite word.  

Sylke Kingma, one of the documentary interviewees, speaks Frisian, Dutch and English.

​“Based on the conversations with Afûk and Mirjam, they wanted a poster to accompany the documentary that showcased our 12 interviewees and information about them,” Travis said. “We decided on a brightly colored, quilt-inspired design to match the current aesthetic of the pavilion. It was really wonderful collaborating on the design and I’m very proud of how it turned out.”

Another unique part of the pavilion will be a café whose waiters/waitresses are deaf. In order to help patrons learn how to order items in Sign Language, Tull designed tabletop brochures, which will be displayed in the café and throughout the pavilion. The tabletop brochure is intended to bridge the gap between spoken language and Sign Language.

“Sign Language is another important means of communication for many and can often go unnoticed or become forgotten. I’m glad that we were able to create something to help shine some light on that,” Tull said.

As part of their project, the students logged more than 8,400 miles of travel roundtrip, compiled 266 gigabytes of media content and actually slept in a former prison. Their experiences were more than just academic.

Members of the iMedia team gather together during the filming of their documentary.

​“This trip was not only life changing for myself, but I know it will have an impact on the lives of others as they enter the pavilion,” Farmer said. “As the project manager, not only was I able to gain professional experience, but getting to know our client, Mirjam, on a more personal level gave me the opportunity to experience the culture in a different way.”

“We were given a unique opportunity to explore and celebrate the diversity of language,” Lawson added. “I hope that our video can help promote Afûk and the Living Room of Languages in the 2018 Capital of Culture celebration.”

For a closer look at the team’s experience in the Netherlands, visit their project website.

The iMedia program also sent “fly-in” groups to Costa Rica, Haiti and Nicaragua this year. For more about their experiences, read this Jan. 24 release about their on-campus presentations.

–Written and compiled by members of Team Life Through Language



Tommy Kopetskie,
2/2/2018 11:10 AM