The Community Language School, a program of the University of Central Arkansas’ Department of World Languages, held Hispanic World Bear Camp this week.

Twenty-five students, many returning from previous Bear Camps, were submersed in an interactive study of the Hispanic world.

The group, led by director Sera Streiff-Vena and several graduate students and volunteers, practiced traditions of Mexico, Brazil and the indigenous tribes who are the influence of modern-day Hispanic culture.

Streiff-Vena said that as Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence, the students learned about the country’s revolution and the indigenous groups, who, having been blended with Spanish citizens, emerged as a vibrant culture.

"We hope to promote tolerance and openness. This way they can be receptive to our Hispanic community members," Streiff-Vena said. "This helps to open their minds, broaden their experiences. We try to find similarities while enjoying the differences of our customs."

The camp also strives to instill a passion for language, an interest in peace studies, cultural studies, and hopefully, Streiff-Vena said, travel.

"This keeps their neural pathways open for the learning of other languages," Streiff-Vena said. "They become more language-ready. The world is changing and young people must learn the appreciate the contributions of other cultures and react to them with an open mind. Instead of saying a food is weird, they could say it is interesting and different. It’s important for young people to look at other cultures and their customs with a neutral attitude, instead of rejecting what is different."

Friday, the culmination of the camp was the celebration of La Posada, a search for shelter.

The students re-enacted the formal Christmas celebration by visiting departments on UCA’s campus and asking for shelter. Department staff were urged to turn the children away, as was tradition, "no matter how cute they looked."

"At the end of their journey they were allowed into our own department and given shelter and viewed a nativity scene," Streiff-Vena said.

Students connected with the Hispanic culture through dance, the arts, language, games and traditional foods.

Monday, the camp will reconvene with a new crop of students whose interests lie with Asian cultures in Asian World Bear Camp. Those students will have an in-depth look at language, history and traditions of Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia and China.

The Community Language School also offers nighttime language classes to adults and children. Classes will begin again in the Fall. For more information, visit www.uca.edu/wlan.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)