At Home Abroad House: an intellectual and cultural crossroads
Performances of Renaissance music can be heard from the common space of Stanford’s At Home Abroad (AHA) house during a Thursday evening seminar. Just half an hour ago, the students sat down at the Italian language table for a lively discussion over traditional dishes and desserts.
Located within Yost at Governor’s Corner, AHA is an intellectual and cultural hub where residents explore languages and cultures through a wide range of activities, including seminars and lively dinner discussions.
The University created the AHA for the 2021-22 academic year by combining La Casa Italiana, La Maison Française and Slavianskii Dom. As a legacy of previous cultural themed houses, the AHA house continues to engage students in cross-cultural learning and foster a diverse community.
The AHA house hosts weekly tables in Russian, Italian and French where students converse in their respective languages over dinner. The on-site meal plan allows for special cultural dinners targeted to the language spoken at one table.
The purpose of the language tables is for people to practice languages while enjoying the food, according to AHA-affiliated graduate student Evan Alterman, who runs the Russian table. It’s also a way to “build community” among students who are interested in Slavic, French and Italian languages and cultures, Alterman added. “Everyone is welcome,” he said.
Alterman believes language is one of the primary ways people learn about other people and their cultures. “It puts people in a totally different mindset and creates a sense of empathy, which is incredibly crucial in cementing our understanding of other cultures,” he said.
In addition to language tables, AHA House organizes off-campus field trips, film screenings, and resident-led activities. Jovana Lazić Knežević, associate director of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and AHA resident, taught students about critical issues and world affairs in the classroom, but she said “something something truly special happens in spaces outside the classroom” and outside of traditional academic settings.
The house also brings together students who are interested in foreign languages and cultures and international issues, according to Knežević. Rather than being a space just for students who speak a foreign language or are majoring in a foreign language, she said the AHA wants “a community of people who are curious about the world.”
The house offers weekly seminars throughout the academic year that fall under Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and Division of Global Studies. Although residents who applied to live at AHA before the general housing allocation process began are required to attend the seminars, they are open to all interested undergraduate students.
In the fall term, the seminar focused on international film series, and the winter term seminar focused on various art forms and other media, genres, and global locations. Students are waiting for the spring term multicultural cooking class.
“There’s a little less emphasis on learning literacy in different media in a traditional classroom setting,” said Maria Massucco, another AHA-affiliated graduate student and one of the seminar facilitators. “Throughout the course, we provide students with opportunities for contact, exposure, and practice to ensure that, while being fully educated at Stanford, they also consider the importance of multisensory literacy. ”
According to Massucco, being able to read images, describe sounds and engage with the world tactilely is no less important than other factors in education. “It’s a different type of teaching than anything I’ve ever done,” she added.
Although Nikhil Lyles ’24 didn’t initially sign up for the course, he was able to attend as a resident of the house – an experience he said he enjoyed.
“The course is a great experience to be exposed to different cultures that I wouldn’t have heard of or been exposed to otherwise,” Lyles said.
For True Sweetser ’21 MA ’22, being a resident assistant (RA) at Yost was one of the best experiences he had at Stanford. “The community here is not only strong, but lively, entertaining, close and supportive beyond my expectations,” Sweetser said.
Lyles also expressed his appreciation for the diversity of the AHA community. He added that he enjoys the activities conducted by the RAs, the weekly seminars and the unique meals he can enjoy with other residents. “There is always something to look forward to,” he said.
For Sweetser, the enthusiasm many students have for the AHA theme and for spending time together in a home environment creates a sense of community.
“It was nice to see the confluence of residents and their different backgrounds, ideas and interests coming together,” he said.