Type the words "international understanding" into an Internet search engine, and a slew of US programs will pop up. Not many of them, however, are as time-honored and widespread as the Amity Institute, based in San Diego. The founder, octogenarian Emily Stowell, received a "Millennium International Volunteer Award" this month from the US Department of State for the vision, commitment, and long-term impact of her program.
The Amity Institute started 38 years ago as a small cultural-exchange program to bring young volunteers to US foreign-language classes. Now, it is a major organization that has brought 4,000 volunteers from 30 countries to US schools and universities.
"Amity may have started off in 1962 as a way to bring contact with native speakers to the many US language teachers who were lacking it," Mrs. Stowell says. "But its mission has always been that the study of world languages and cultures will better international understanding."
Celia Weller, a professor of Spanish at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., has had Amity volunteers in her class for more than 10 years. One volunteer comes each year, helping out in second-year classes, or at the college's Casa Espaa (Spanish House). Volunteers often teach dances or music, or hold ethnic-food demonstrations. "They bring things like videos, pictures, or music from their specific countries,... it's so wonderful to see how well they turn on our students to their culture," says Dr. Weller.
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