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Vedrana Damjanovic

Sophomore, Public relations major

On any given Thursday, you can find about 130 foreign language lovers at the Midnight bar’s Gainesville Language Exchange, eager to practice their language skills and meet new people.

The Gainesville Language Exchange (GLX) is a community project. Every Thursday, without fail, native and nonnative speakers of any given language congregate at 223 S. Main St. in Downtown. It brings together people interested in practicing foreign languages and meeting new people and cultures.

The GLX started as a joint project of two friends who saw a similar project in Buenos Aires and brought it to Gainesville in January 2014.

“It felt like a home away from home and we wanted to bring that here to Gainesville,” said Maynard Shaye, 24, the president and co-founder of the Gainesville Language Exchange. “We figured it would be a way to cater to the international community here in Gainesville.”

The participants gather from 8:30 p.m. and the event lasts until 11:30 p.m. every Thursday. They can choose from more than 120 cultural and language stickers that are in the form of little flags. In the cozy, low-lighten bar atmosphere, the participants hang around and look for people with the same country flags to start a foreign-language conversation.

“It’s great to see everyone getting together once a week,” Shaye said. “You get a really strong sense of community just being a part of it; it’s also nice for myself personally to throw myself a party. I’m a prom king every week — it’s just fun.”

Students of the University of Florida International Studies club decided to join the local group and bring their members for a social event. In summer 2014, they unsuccessfully tried to organize their own language exchange over lunch and bring together students who were learning foreign languages as well as international students.

“We had a little bit of trouble getting international students to come,” said Marissa Koolik, a UF international studies and Chinese senior. “I had been there (the GLX) before and had a good experience, so we thought why not? We should take the international students and anyone who’s also wanted to practice foreign languages. We should join this preexisting language exchange group.”

Besides socializing and having a good time, the GLX also provides an enjoyable atmosphere and space for putting language theory and grammar into practice.

“It was a good practice for me, because the Chinese class I am taking this semester is mostly just reading, so I don’t really get speaking practice,” Koolik said. “It’s a good group, they are doing a good thing and we want to keep supporting them.”

Furthermore, Shay said that the GLX changed their participants’ summers here and helped them establish new friendships. The members ended up spending the entire summer together.

“It’s really cool for us to see them every time coming together; we know they met there, so it’s heart-warming in that sense,” Shay said.

Isabella Trujillo, a freshman majoring in political science at UF, said she enjoyed her first visit.

“It is really great program where you can go and share language skills or practice the language you’re taking,” Trujillo said. “I really liked it because it feels more like socializing and meeting new people, but at the same time you’re practicing and you’re learning, so it’s a learning experience as well.”

Everyone interested in joining this group and enhancing language skills can join the GLX Facebook group and keep updated.

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