The IU Summer Language Workshop Alumni Newsletter | Summer 2015


What Did You Learn this Summer?

The Summer Language Workshop prides itself on the diversity of its languages, programming and especially of its students. While each student’s experience at the Workshop is different, many of our alumni will attest that the Workshop offers students the opportunity to not only discover new things about the languages and cultures they study but also learn more about themselves.

Having wrapped up the 2015 session of the Summer Language Workshop, we are excited to update you on the important changes in our program and share reflections from students from each of the languages taught this summer. We hope that these short vignettes will inspire you to think back and remember what you learned during your summer in SWSEEL.


Learning About the Middle East, Not Just Arabic

by Hyunjin Cho


Arabic level 2 enjoying class outdoors

On May 31st, when I first moved into my temporary apartment in Bloomington, I thought the nine weeks were going to be quite long. I did not know anyone in this town; this being my first time in the mid-west, it was definitely unchartered territory for me. However—and I fully acknowledge how cliché it is to say this— the nine weeks went by really fast. I made some good friends, improved on my Arabic, and experienced some of the incredible food options that Bloomington has to offer.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I am taking away from the Summer Language Workshop is my appreciation for dialect. During the nine weeks, we mostly focused on getting used to hearing and speaking Shami, which is the Arabic dialect spoken in Middle Eastern countries like Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Before coming to IU for the Summer Language Workshop, I was not exposed at all to Shami and dialect was certainly not a priority on my list: I was mostly learning Arabic for research purposes—so I can read manuscripts, texts, and inscriptions in paintings and architectures.


Arabic level 2 students working to finish a vocabulary puzzle

I can’t say that learning Shami was not frustrating at first. It was as if I was learning a new language that was vastly different from Arabic; most of the time, when I was certain that I managed to put together a whole sentence in Shami, it turned out that I was still using prepositions, words, and pronunciation of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). But as with everything, I got used to listening and speaking Shami with practice—in class and during conversation hours. I definitely feel like I have improved and will probably not be as afraid and scared of speaking and hearing Shami!

I value the time and effort the instructors put into helping us expand our vocabulary, enhancing our conversational skills, and revising our weekly writing assignments, and I really appreciate that the instructors made sure that that wasn’t all we were getting out of the summer language program. Noor, my Arabic instructor, made sure that we were learning about the culture of the Middle East. We were asked to find songs or YouTube videos from or about the Middle East that we wanted to share with the class from time to time. We were also introduced to the tradition of coffee cup reading and have all learned how to make homemade hummus (a true achievement, in my opinion). Through YouTube videos, social media pages, film screenings, Arabic lectures, class activities, and guest speakers, I was certainly introduced to and was immersed in different aspects of contemporary Middle Eastern culture that I would have never learned about in a normal language class setting.


Arabic level 2 in class

Besides learning Arabic, I also really enjoyed and appreciated that our class was a platform to talk about Middle Eastern history and politics. It is hard to deny that all of us who are studying Arabic are interested in various internal and external conflicts of the region, and rather than containing the discussion to outlining the facts, Noor was very open to listening to people’s opinions and insights and also answering any questions that we might have. None of us are experts on these sensitive topics and I greatly appreciated that she opened up the classroom for meaningful and edifying discussions.

This summer was my first time enrolling and participating in an intensive language course and I found it to be very rewarding and productive. At times it was certainly overwhelming and even though I had my reservations about “cramming” a language, the structure of and the instructors at IU’s Summer Language Workshop indeed provided a curriculum that was immersive and welcoming, where each one of us was able to fully absorb things that were covered in class.


Hyunjin Cho (Arabic level 2, 2015) is an M.A. student in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Boston University. She is currently working on her M.A. Scholarly Paper on Iranian postage stamps issued during the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-1896) and her research interests include print culture, fashion and ideas of authority and identity, and Orientalism. She received her B.A. in Art History and Economics from Wesleyan University, CT.


Pencils, Erasers, and the However of Language

Deanna Benjamin


BCS class enjoying their farewell breakfast

However. It’s a versatile word with an interesting etymology. Most often, we see however as a precursor to a sentence that contrasts the preceding idea. Rarely do we see however used the way it was once intended: as a modifier, as an adverb or with an adjective. For example, however one slices it, bread is bread. Or, however crazy a quest one may think it is to learn a foreign language in eight weeks, it can be done. However is also, and more importantly perhaps, Lidija Cvikic’s favorite word. There’s one more thing, our BCS teacher would begin ending a lesson. Then, after adding a few more pieces to the language puzzle, she’d say, however, and make just one more point.

Lidija taught my classmates and me Croatian. She also taught us patience. On the first day of class, she said, “you will get frustrated in week five.” She wasn’t the first person to tell me this. A colleague at the University of Missouri, where I am working on my Ph. D. in English, said nearly the same thing about a similar course she took in Russian a couple years earlier. “Be patient with yourself,” she said. “You're always far more articulate than you think you are!” I don’t know about the last part, but she was right about the first part. Like Lidija warned, my classmates and I did get frustrated (or at the very least overwhelmed). But frustration rarely lingers. The unknown becomes known, or recognizable, and sometime after week five and that forecast frustration, we summoned our patience and took our notes, and the language started to click its way around the cogs in our brains.


Workshop's BCS instructor Lidija Cvikic

Still, there is a nemesis in every quest. And my nemesis—the source of that week five frustration—came in the guise of cases. No matter how many notes I took or exercises I completed or answers I gave in class, those daring cases proved formidable: in spite of our four-hour classes where Lidija poured out her knowledge of Croatian for us, her five eager students. We filled pages and pages in our notebooks with words and phrases and conjugations and declinations and more words and more phrases. By the end of week two, I had four hundred flashcards of words and phrases and grammars. I kid you not. And by the end of week four, I had an eighteen-page vocabulary list and a few hundred more flashcards. My classmates and I studied together outside of class: in the dorm, at restaurants, and at the dining room table. We ate dinners and desserts and drank coffee. But still when it came to cases, we struggled through reciting our answers to the homework and were often corrected by our teacher. (FYI: corrections are not bad things when it comes to language learning. One does not learn if one does not try, and one is not successful in every one of one’s attempts. Thus, to say we were corrected is also to say we were learning a new language.)

At first—before we got knee-deep in cases, the corrections were about pronunciation of vowels and consonants—especially lj (l-yuh)and nj (n-yuh) and d (hard j)—but as the summer moved on so did our knowledge base. We figured out vowels and consonants and words and phrases. We could speak in sentences, read entire paragraphs and answer questions about lengthy dialogues. And with that new ability came the responsibility of pronouncing the stresses, of speaking the music of the language. One of my fellow students noticed the shift in Lidija’s corrections. It wasn’t only about the pronunciation of words anymore. It was about where the stresses happened in relation to the words around the words. We felt as though we’d advanced! And then week five hit, and Lidija finished out the cases. We were still struggling with the old ones but the new ones, instrumental and genitive would be easier, she told us. They had prepositions. Still, some of us, we were stymied, myself included.


BCS class in session

There were several brown bag lectures during the eight-week program. One of them was about the different levels of language acquisition: novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior. Honestly, when I started this program, I thought, Hey, eight weeks? I should be able to get to the advanced level—the one where I could string together sentences and paragraphs into an essay of a sort, with a beginning, middle, and end. And I did get there by week seven, when I wrote an essay about a scavenger hunt that led us from our classroom, past the embossed image on the side of Ballantine Hall, beyond the red street clock skirted by red and white flowers, and to the campus’ art museum. And, except for the cases, I did pretty well, I think. But an understanding and execution of cases are essential. Without them, meanings can be misconstrued, intentions misinterpreted. And at week five, cases were, for me, a jumble of penciled misunderstandings and erased errors. At the time, in fact, I thought I’d be lucky if I made it through the novice level of how are you? and what do you like? and where are you from? You know, the introductory stuff.

Then, finally, the day before the final exam, after taking small steps toward clarity, we reviewed the cases. Lidija stepped up to the green chalkboard and together we mapped out the features of each one: the accusative, the dative, the locative, the instrumental, and the genitive. Lidija asked us questions about each case and she wrote our answers on the board. She supplemented those answers with remembers and howevers and example sentences. We took pages of notes, and the pencil and eraser dust of the prior seven weeks finally started to settle.

Now, after finishing the program, it’s true. I have a clearer understanding of the language, and in the last week of classes, I even played a bit with poetry. But learning a new language isn’t about understanding its nuances or writing poetry. It isn’t about composing compelling essays or engaging in witty retorts. Indeed, however much we want to express our complex selves and ideas, we can’t. To do that, we need to know the language’s vocabulary and syntax, its pronunciations and conjugations and declinations. We need to know how its music is played before we can play it.


Deanna Benjamin’s (BCS level 1, 2015) writing has appeared in Brevity Magazine, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and other reviews, including the anthology, Seek It: Writers and Artists Do Sleep (Red Claw Press, 2012). She holds an M. F. A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts and leads creative nonfiction workshops at Washington University in St. Louis (Univ. College) and at the Univ. of Missouri, where she is a Ph. D. candidate in English. She plans to use her experience here at Indiana U's SWSEEL while she walks the Montenegrin streets next summer and learns a bit more about her family's history.


An Intense Summer of Chinese

by Jerah Vaughn-Maeha


Chinese class with Jiang lǎoshī, Chén lǎoshī, and one of this summer's guest speakers

As a recent graduate of Indiana University, I would sometimes get questions wondering why I chose to spend my summer learning Chinese. I’ve done the Summer Language Workshop before, and I know how intense a year’s worth of language learning crammed into two months can be. Even though I knew I would be stressed out learning a new language, devoting a whole summer to studying a language is the best option, especially if you’re just beginning.

The Chinese course differs a bit from other language courses in that we have two instructors. Jiāng lǎoshī (the Chinese word for teacher) teaches our regular lecture section Monday to Friday for four hours. Monday to Thursday for one hour Chén lǎoshī teaches our drill section. Everything we learn in lecture gets reiterated the same day in drill. This helps immensely to make difficult vocab and grammar points more concrete. Learning from two instructors also allows us to interact daily with another native Chinese speaker. The more interaction and feedback you get from native speakers, the more your own language skills will improve, especially at the beginning stages.


One of the students chatting with Herman B. Wells for a class video project

Since Chinese is a tonal language, tones are used to differentiate meaning. The same syllables with different tones carry different meaning. Lǎoshī (teacher) and lǎoshi (honest) only differ in the last tone mark, but that slight difference changes the whole meaning. Chén lǎoshī told me, “Our first priority is to make sure you are able to communicate.” Even if we are using the incorrect tones or grammar, it is important to first be able to use the language comfortably. Because of their class setup, we were more inclined to use the language and not be embarrassed to make mistakes. If we didn’t know the exact word in Chinese, we were encouraged to play with the language to express what we wanted to say.

Our instructors were always upbeat and frequently tried different teaching methods to suit our learning. We would improve reading, writing, and listening through various engaging class activities. These would include anything from filling-in the lyrics to songs to more competitive means of learning. My favorite game in drill was a recognition game where you had to choose the correct character on the board. You played against someone from the opposing team and you both had fly swatters. Needless to say there was some playful swatting and shoving.


Chinese calligraphy lesson

Besides our in class work and quizzes, we would always find time to focus on cultural activities. Fridays after our test were set aside for some sort of cultural lesson or guest speaker. One of our first lessons was calligraphy. We practiced writing characters and drawing bamboo first on rice paper and then on decorated red scrolls. A couple of my classmates even bought their own calligraphy sets to practice on their own. Our guest speakers covered topics such as language learning methods, Taiwanese culture, and traditional Chinese music. My classmate’s friend, a doctoral student in Ethnomusicology at IU, came in and played a gǔzheng, Chinese zither, and an èrhú, Chinese two-stringed fiddle. Hearing a traditional Chinese instrument played in our small classroom was an unexpected bonus to the program.


Chinese students playing Mahjong at an FCI picnic

We had many opportunities to use Chinese outside of class. On Wednesdays we had conversation hour with native Chinese speakers. The first few weeks it was difficult to use Chinese and to understand what was being spoken. That didn’t deter us. We perfected basic introductions and advanced into talking about family members and hobbies. At our last Chinese table my classmate Andrew shared: “I was actually able to communicate. He didn’t even need to slow down his speech.” Becoming proficient enough to have a conversation with a stranger was by far one of the highest points during the program.

Other cultural activities were organized in collaboration with the Flagship Chinese Institute (FCI). FCI is a similar program to the Summer Language Workshop, but is for intermediate and advanced Chinese students who pledge to only speak Chinese during the eight weeks. They provided weekly Taiji classes and movie nights. Attending the Friday movie nights was something I often looked forward to at the end of the week with my classmates. Out of all the films they played my favorite was “American Dreams in China.” Released in 2013, it’s a story about three friends who build an English language school in China. I thought it was ironic at the time because here I am in an intense language course while there are people in a similar course learning English.


Taiji lesson with Brian Flaherty

After reviewing a lesson on ordering food in a restaurant, our teachers took us out to Chow Bar to test our skills. We only had about of month of class at that point, but we were limited to only speaking in Chinese. This was my favorite class activity because we were able to apply what we learned in class outside of the classroom. Many of us wish to study abroad at some point, and we are going to run into a situation in which we can only use Chinese. This was an early lesson to try and expose us to a setting similar to studying abroad.

Right now, I am in the midst of preparing a schedule for me to keep up with learning Chinese as my other classmates are preparing for their fall semester. As I’m looking back on the time I spent studying Chinese with my classmates under the patient eyes of our instructors, I’m longing for it more and more. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had, the friendships I’ve made, and the lessons learned from my instructors. This is why I, a recent IU graduate, chose to spend my summer studying Chinese.


Jerah Vaughn-Maeha (Chinese level 1, 2015) holds a B.A. in Anthropology, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, from Indiana University. Upon graduation in May 2015 she commissioned into the U.S. Army through the Indiana University ROTC program.



“Language is a glimpse of culture”: Studying Hindi-Urdu

by Miriam J. Woods


Left to right: Emily Tallo, Miriam J. Woods, Paul Tarricone, Kashika Singh

When you sign up for an intensive summer language course, you might anticipate endless grammar drills, vocabulary quizzes, and practicing writing the new script (or scripts) until your hand aches. Students in introductory Hindi-Urdu certainly got plenty of all of these this summer, but we also got a cultural education of a depth and quality I never expected.

Kashikaji (the –ji suffix in Hindi shows respect for the person whose name it is affixed to) taught us that one of the main centers around which daily life in India revolves is the preparation and consumption of food. We were able to experience a bit of this firsthand by participating in cooking (and of course eating!) an Indian meal.


Kashikaji after the cooking demonstration at the Summer Language Workshop

We held our class during regular hours but in the kitchen at the Polish Studies Center rather than in our usual classroom in Ballantine. While speaking only Hindi (unless we needed to clarify something or ask for an unknown word or phrase), all four of us—the three students and our teacher—read and followed recipes for channa masala (a deliciously spicy chickpea dish), bhindi ki sabzi (a spiced okra dish), paratha (a thin, flaky flatbread similar to a flour tortilla), raita (a savory yogurt side dish with finely chopped vegetables and herbs), and kheer (a dessert made with milk, thin noodles, spices, and plenty of sugar). Kashikaji also taught us how to make Indian chai (which just means “tea” in Hindi and Urdu) by boiling water with a generous amount of fresh ginger, then adding milk and sugar to taste.

One of the high points of my summer was being able to have a discussion (albeit slow and somewhat stilted) with my Hindi teacher, in Hindi, about women’s rights in India and the United States. While we sometimes got cultural asides in English, the more Hindi and Urdu we learned, the more our cultural education took place in the target language itself.


Spices ready to flavor the food

When we think of culture, we tend to focus on the more superficial and immediately obvious differences between different cultural groups. Our teacher dresses differently from us, grew up eating different foods than the ones we grew up with, and enjoys watching films from Bollywood rather than Hollywood. Yet some of the most important cultural differences are the ones that aren’t so obvious. For example, it is fairly normal for American students to set their textbooks on the floor while not using them, but this American habit bothered Kashikaji, who would request that books stay off the floor because they are symbols of knowledge and learning and should be respected. Kashikaji would also sometimes tell us that things we did unconsciously, such certain ways of sitting or positioning our bodies in space, would not be considered acceptable behavior in an Indian cultural context. Ways of sitting and bodily positioning are some of the least obvious cultural differences, yet they can be just as important as, or even more important than, things like how spicy one’s food is.


A delicious Indian meal. Clockwise from top: Kheer, paratha, channa masala, bhindi ki sabzi, raita

One of the tricky things about Hindi and Urdu is the sheer number of words of English origin that have made their way into the languages. This can make it very easy and tempting to fall back on substituting an English word for a Hindi or Urdu word that may have slipped your mind. Sometimes this is not actually incorrect; native speakers themselves often slip in a lot of English words when they talk, and Kashikaji told us that many Indians use English numbers rather than the complicated system of Hindi numbers that we struggled to learn this summer. Other times, however, English words can be “false friends,” with a different meaning in Hindi than we are used to in American English. The word “expired,” for example, is used for things like old food in the US, but in India it is used as a euphemism for “passed away” or “died.”


Lunch after the cooking demonstration

After studying Hindi and Urdu with Kashikaji this summer, I’m not sure I’m ready for a solo trek across India quite yet, but I do feel like I could be sufficiently culturally competent to not offend people there, and my language skills went from a mere Namaste (“hello”) to being able to wade semi-competently through BBC Hindi and enjoy Bollywood movies even when the subtitles stop making sense.

The IU Summer Language Workshop is the next best thing to total linguistic and cultural immersion without leaving the United States. If you’re interested in South Asia or just want to learn one of the most widely spoken languages on earth, I can’t recommend highly enough studying Hindi-Urdu with Kashikaji.


Miriam J. Woods (Hindi-Urdu level 1, 2015 and Russian level 4, 2014) is a graduate student at Indiana University in the departments of Central Eurasian Studies and Folklore and Ethnomusicology. She primarily studies material culture in Tajikistan but is also interested in South Asia.



‘Deep’ Structure: Learning Sorani Kurdish at SWSEEL”

by Diana P. Hatchett


Kurdish class outing

A Kurdish guy named Ahwal walks into a pharmacy and asks for “deep.” (Ahwal is the main character in a Kurdish cartoon series, and he is considered “the Mr. Bean of Kurdistan.”)

“What is ‘deep’?” the puzzled pharmacy technician asks.

“Deep is…this side of it is deep and that side of it is also deep,” Ahwal replies.

Confused by this vague answer, the pharmacy tech calls into the stockroom for the doctor. “What do you want?” the doctor asks Ahwal.

“Deep,” Ahwal replies.

“What is ‘deep’?” the doctor asks incredulously.

“This side of it is deep and that side of it is also deep,” Ahwal explains, gesturing with one hand, then the other.

Puzzled, the doctor and pharmacy technician look at each other and shrug. Then the pharmacy tech suggests that they ask another employee, Aziz, who speaks in a silly manner similar to Ahwal. “Aziz, come here,” they call to the stockroom.

Aziz appears. “Do you know what ‘deep’ is?” they ask.

“Ah! Deep, yes, we have!” Aziz exclaims and then disappears back into the stockroom. Returning a moment later, Aziz hands Ahwal a bag, saying, “Here you go.”

“Dast khosh (“thank you,” or, literally, “your hands are nice”), Ahwal says and leaves. The doctor turns to Aziz and asks, “What is ‘deep’?”
“Deep is… this side of it is deep and that side of it is also deep,” Aziz replies.

Throwing up his hands in frustration, the doctor asks, “Could you show me the ‘deep’?” “Unfortunately,” Aziz says, “that was our last one.”



Kurdish class lunch

Dr. Haidar Khezri, our Sorani Kurdish instructor, pauses the cartoon we were watching about Ahwal and the pharmacy. “Did you get it?” he asks, smiling.

The five students in my class look at one another, confused. “‘Deep’ cheeya? (What is deep?)” we ask Haidar.

“I think you got it,” Haidar says.

“But what does ‘deep’ mean?” we persist.

“Ok, so let’s watch it again,” Haidar says. Three or four viewings later, we are just as confused as before. We translate the cartoon, sentence by sentence, until Haidar is confident that we understand all the vocabulary, all but the mysterious word “deep.”

Exasperated, we say, “Ok, we know all those words, but what is ‘deep’?” “That is the point!” Haidar laughs.

Then we realize it: “Deep” is a nonsense word in Kurdish, and we laugh because we finally understand the joke.



Dr. Haidar Khezri leading the Introductory Kurdish class

This is the first year that Sorani Kurdish has been offered at Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop. The course is supported by the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University. IU is one of only a handful of American universities ever to have offered a Kurdish language course, and it is the first university in the United States to offer a course in Sorani Kurdish. As someone who has been looking for a Kurdish language course in the United States for several years, I personally can attest to their rarity. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have studied Sorani Kurdish at IU, especially because I am moving to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in August 2015 to conduct 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork for my doctoral degree in anthropology.

Now is an auspicious time to study Kurdish: Kurds across the Middle East are forging new political systems, such as in Rojava (Kurdish Syria), and they are defending the region against the Islamic State. Kurds constitute the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, and they are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state.
An estimated 7 to 9 million people (there are no official estimates) speak Sorani Kurdish, a group of dialects also referred to collectively as Central Kurdish. Sorani Kurdish belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. There are an estimated 30 to 40 million Kurdish speakers (again, no official estimates exist), mostly residing in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, as well as in diaspora across Europe and the United States. Most Sorani speakers live in Iraq, where Sorani Kurdish is one of the two official languages (the other is Arabic), and some live in Northwestern Iran, where our instructor, Dr. Haidar Khezri grew up.

Haidar is a dynamic instructor: He incorporates current events and Kurdish culture in our language learning by showing us news media clips, music videos, cartoons, and websites on topics that appeal to the diverse range of students in our class: For the political science-minded student, we have viewed and discussed news clips about the conflict with the Islamic State and about U.S. and Kurdish relations. For the comparative religion student, we have learned about foundational myths and religious practices among Kurdish-speaking populations. During breaks in between class segments, we have watched dozens of Kurdish music videos, including Kurdistan’s Lady Gaga-esque singer, Helly Luv, whose “Revolution” music video celebrates the


Kurdish class dinner at Samira

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. Our forays into Kurdish music have been supplemented with insightful commentary from the ethnomusicologist in our class, who is also a member of the Middle Eastern ensemble, Felfel. One of our class members worked in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for four years, and she has shared fascinating stories with us; her fortitude is an inspiration. I also have learned from my classmates who have studied other languages, such as Arabic and Farsi. Most of all, we have benefited from learning Kurdish from a Professor of Comparative Literature with extensive knowledge of Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and English languages and literatures. Dr. Khezri developed our Sorani course materials, which he plans to publish as a textbook. “It is significant that IU can offer a language that practically has never been taught,” said Haidar, “not only in the United States, but also – due to political reasons – in a lot of Middle Eastern countries, even where Kurdish is spoken.”

Our time outside the classroom also has made my experience learning Sorani Kurdish at IU a great one: We have watched Kurdish films together; practiced some Kurdish dance moves; shared a fabulous dinner at Samira restaurant and ice cream at the Chocolate Moose; attended a special performance of the Middle Eastern ensemble Felfel; taken a Krav Maga self-defense course at a local martial arts studio; and just generally enjoyed each other’s company. I guess you could say our friendships built on language learning run…deep.


Diana P. Hatchett (Kurdish level 1, 2015) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Her dissertation research concerns education, religious and ethnic identities, and state-making in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where she also has worked as an education consultant. She earned a MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a BA in Anthropology from Sewanee: The University of the South.


The Moment Before Dawn: How The SWSEEL Mongolian Language Program Reinvigorated My Passion for All Things Mongolian

by Thalea Stokes


Tserenchunt bagsh and the 2015 Introductory Mongolian students

My name is Thalea Stokes, and I participated in the Introductory Mongolian Class in the Indiana University (IU) Summer Language Workshop (SWSEEL). My class consisted of one great classmate and one amazing instructor, the one and only Tserenchunt Legden, who heads the Mongolian language program at IU. While I have studied Mandarin Chinese (formally for about three years and informally for five years), I have never taken an intensive language program before, and the “intense” in the title was taken absolutely to heart. I had class Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., where each hour of class counted as a day' worth of language instruction during the academic year. In addition to our regular classes, we also had language tables every week, Brown Bag lectures, and other extra-curricular activities.

Tserenchunt was, by far, the best language teacher I have ever had, and it was an honor and pleasure to have studied under her. Although the pace was intense, due to the nature of the program itself, she was extremely attune to students’ individual needs and was able to explain and teach the language and its finer points in simple, varied, and extremely clear ways. There was never a moment when either one of us students did not eventually understand any grammatical or vocabulary point we learned in class.


Mongolian Naadam Festival

Not only was the class environment superb, the extra-curricular environment of our class was always related to what we were learning and directly applicable to past, current, and future lessons. Furthermore, the extra-curricular activities brought real-time cultural immersion to our overall language-learning experience. During our language tables, we would converse as much as possible in Mongolian. The first few language tables were difficult, but by the fifth week, we were having discussions about politics in Mongolian at the Little Tibet restaurant, or about current events at Dat’s Cajun restaurant. We even had one language table at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, where we interacted with other Mongolian teachers and students, and had a delicious Mongolian style lunch. On occasion, Tserenchunt also cooked Mongolian food herself and brought it to class for our language table.

My favorite extra-curricular activities, however, were the SWSEEL Music and Food Festival, Mongolian Naadam Festival, and the SWSEEL Talent Show. As I am a Ph.D. student in Ethnomusicology, and my research topic largely focuses on Mongolian music, I had the opportunity to participate in these events in a special way: I played a traditional Mongolian instrument called морин хуур (loosely translated as “horse-head fiddle” in English). At each of these events, I played and sang various songs, and all but one of the songs were songs I learned in my Mongolian language class. Knowing that I was going to participate in these events inspired me to not only practice my instrument more diligently, it also encouraged me to practice singing the songs more and really learn and know the lyrics to the songs. Thus, when it came time to perform, I had a deeper and more personal affinity for the songs and, by extension, for the language and culture of Mongolia.


Thalea Stokes performing at the Workshop's Talent Show

During the Mongolian Naadam Festival, I not only performed, but I also acted as host and MC for the event, introducing people and performances in Mongolian, further strengthening my language skills. This was a unique chance to actually be involved in the Mongolian community of Bloomington, an extremely important opportunity that I had been hoping for the moment I was accepted into the language program. After the Mongolian Naadam Festival and leading to the SWSEEL Talent Show, I continued practicing my songs, and I eventually gathered the courage to record myself and post them to Facebook. To my surprise and relief, I received a great amount of support for my videos not only from friends and family but also from Mongols who saw the videos and shared them with others. This little act allowed me to gain even more connections with the larger Mongolian community.

Finally, at the SWSEEL Talent Show, I had a great time performing with my classmate and for my fellow SWSEEL students, where all of the different language classes showcased things they learned throughout the summer. And at the risk of showing some bias, I do believe that our small Mongolian class was a major hit!


Mongolian class enjoying refreshments with some members of the Bloomington Mongolian community

After we took our final exam in the eighth week of the program, Tserenchunt played the film The Weeping Camel for us. The story follows a Mongolian nomad camp in the Gobi desert, and a camel who gives birth to a white calf, whom she subsequently rejects. The family then implements many traditional Mongolian methods, including playing coaxing and sacred music for the mother camel on the horse-head fiddle in order to encourage her to accept her calf. Even though I have been studying Mongolian music and involved in Mongolian culture for several years now, I had not yet had the opportunity to see that famous film up to that point. It was the perfect, yet most bittersweet ending to my amazing Mongolian language class. We watched the film and ate Mongolian food cooked by Tserenchunt, and at the end, we took pictures of our class and said our misty-eyed good-byes.

I have since returned to Chicago to continue my regular studies, but I, even now, intensely miss my intense Mongolian language class and everything that it entailed. I only wish that SWSEEL offered an intermediate-level class, as I would absolutely return next summer. Nevertheless, my growth from this program and all of my experiences makes me confident for my future academic and professional career in studying Mongolian language, music, and culture, and I know that I will return to Bloomington soon to reconnect with all of the wonderful people I met, all of the friends I made, and of course my absolutely amazing teacher.


Thalea C. Stokes (maiden Davis) (Mongolian level 1, 2015) is a professional musician and aspiring educator. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Thalea has achieved a great host of personal and professional accomplishments throughout her life and career. Thalea's interest in music began early, as she started playing classical Double Bass in middle school, going on to earn a performance degree on the instrument in 2007 from Western Michigan University (WMU). Thalea's interest in East Asian languages and cultures also began early with Tae Kwon Do, expanded to learning Chinese language, and eventually culminated in a Global Studies degree from WMU and music research MA from WMU, where her thesis title was "Across the Red Steppe: Exploring Mongolian Music in China and Exporting it from Within." Thalea is continuing her exploration of East and Central Asian music culture as a doctoral student in Ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago. Later in life, Thalea aims to start her own school that will focus on international music and be based in the United States. You can learn more about Thalea at


A Persian Indiana Summer

by Delia Walker-Jones


Persian students celebrating Eid

The day the Iranian nuclear accord was announced, our Persian class hummed with excitement. We sat glued to the projector, watching videos of Obama, Zarif, and celebrating Iranians. We slowly pieced together several Persian language headlines from Iranian news sources about the deal: “Iranian people celebrate in the streets after nuclear deal”, “A new era in Iran”, “Zarif and a new beginning for Iranian people”. We looked at pictures of Iranians young and old in the streets of Tehran, waving flags and peace signs.

The overwhelming optimism buoyed our spirits, slightly dampened by six weeks of intensive language learning. Yet, even if my time in SWSEEL had not coincided with the exciting news about the nuclear deal, Persian has always been and continues to be an extremely relevant language, and one with a long and ample history. My time at SWSEEL has only spurred my curiosity and fascination with the culture of the area, and I can’t wait to continue my studies in the region and to discover what new life-changing experiences lie in wait.

I first travelled abroad without my family when I was thirteen, when I set off to Turkey with a teacher from school to compete in a Turkish language competition that I later learned was funded by the Islamist advocate for pan-Turkism Fetullah Gulen. Last year, I was interviewed about this experience, and I found myself at a loss to put myself firmly on one side or the other. The interviewer pressed me, it seemed, to say something negative about the experience, and while it was certainly a bizarre one, I didn’t find it negative, for it has opened so many doors for me and developed my interests in ways I couldn’t have imagined at thirteen. My first experience in Turkey spurred my interest in travel and the Middle East, and it certainly hasn’t led me anywhere dull.


Solaiman Fazel explaining new vocabulary

I began Persian with no idea what to expect. Many Americans have a negative conception of Iran, and when I first arrived to Bloomington this summer, the most important thing for me was to buck this conception, for myself at least, if not for others. Though I’d explored Iran academically, reading many essays and books, and writing research papers, I had no idea how to practically approach this goal. But language is always an excellent place to start.

During our first language table of the semester, our Persian instructor Solaiman Fazel said something that stuck with me: “Iranian culture is an intellectual culture. For Iranians, upward mobility and education are the most important aims.” One thing that really demonstrated this for me was a particularly inspiring talk organized by SWSEEL about the Persian poet Hafez. The speaker enthusiastically described him as Shakespeare times ten. Together we read through one of his poems and looked at a crib translation and a few alternative translations by English-speaking poets. The next day our instructor asked us what we thought of the talk. “It’s important to realize,” he said, “that the Persian language hasn’t changed very much in centuries. And Hafez’s poetry is still widely read—it’s not considered artsy or pretentious to read and quote poetry. If a household has only a few books, you can be sure that they have the Qur’an and Hafez.”


IU Professor and SWSEEL participant Paul Losensky giving a Brownbag talk on the Persian poet Hafez

It takes a certain kind of person to study a language that’s spoken in a sworn enemy country of the United States, and although I’ve yet to figure out exactly what kind of person I am, I can only hope to live up to the travel-minded, thoughtful, warm, and interesting individuals in my class. From the CEUS master’s students to the ROTC scholarship students, it’s been fascinating to see who else is interested in Iran and why.

One gentleman in my class, an active member of the military for 14 years, tells me that he wants to learn Farsi to really understand the culture and people of Iran. Coming from a purely academic background, I was surprised by this. Meeting the people at IU funded by Project GO! or otherwise involved in the military was very enlightening for me. Together, we talked about the paradox of government work where people with deep knowledge of other cultures is highly prized, yet personal connections with those countries are often the basis for rejection of job applications because of security clearances.

After my SWSEEL experience, I will depart in a few weeks for the fall semester to Tajikistan, where I will continue my study of Persian and also learn some Tajik as well. I have no idea what to expect once I get there—what will my host family be like? How will my language classes compare to the ones here? What will the other American students be like? Will I be able to get around in day-to-day life with limited Persian and no Russian? I would be the first to admit I’m a little terrified by the prospect. But with the possibility of study in Iran in the future, I’m so incredibly lucky and grateful to be living at this point in time, for the possibilities are endless.


Delia Walker-Jones (Persian level 1, 2015) is a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where she studies Geography and Middle Eastern Studies. This fall she'll be studying abroad in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and continuing her study of Persian. In the future, she hopes to work abroad and use her language skills as much as possible.


Seeking More Than Just Understanding

by Juana Granados


Russian level 3 class on the last day of the Workshop

I remember receiving an email from my Russian teacher about the IU Summer Language Workshop as my college freshman year was coming to an end. To my surprise, I was reacquainted with memories of my time in high school, where I decided to study Russian because it was the only language my school offered. I had previously participated in two Russian Competitions, the Russian Olympiada, organized by Mark Trotter during my junior and senior year of high school. A few months after the Olympiada, I was meeting my new host family in Russia through a scholarship from American Council’s program, NSLI-Y. The first thing I remember about my time abroad, with much embarrassment, was apologizing.  My host family greeted me, and I lost all comprehension of Russian.

Living in Russia helped me get a better graspof basic every-day communication skills and Russian culture, however, I was not yet a confident Russian speaker. I knew that if I did not continue practicing Russian, I would gradually lose it. I went to college knowing that I wanted to study Russian. The more practice the better, right? This was the ideal major for me along with pre-med. Once I was accepted into Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop, I was looking forward to a rewarding summer ahead of me. The possibility of going back to Russia and doing field research is in the horizon for my future.

The Bloomington campus was beautiful. Coming from a college in California, the Bloomington campus was different, however, this was definitely a college town that I knew I could call home for the next eight weeks. The people in my class were unbelievable. There were graduate students, a high school senior, and undergrads, just like me. Despite its diversity, our class was still small, and I enjoyed the dynamic between the students. While I had taken several attempts at mastering the Russian language before, Indiana University's Summer Language Workshop was certainly in many ways unique .


Juana helping with a film project for level one, her suitemate's level

My learning was enriched by a grammar class, a listening class, a speaking class, a language table, and even phonetics. Wednesday afternoons were spent watching Russian movies, trying to pick out familiar words and phrases, and see how native Russians speak the language. As weeks progressed, I was noticing improvement in not only myself, but also in my peers. Our skills were tested. We tried to distinguish the difference between Russian sounds, aiming to find our inner Russian accent. We even learned how to talk English with a Russian accent. Intonation was hard, but my class made it easy to learn. Squeaking our voices to emphasize an upwards intonation may not have turned us into native Russian speakers, but it did engrave the correct intonation at the end.

The interaction between everyone in my class was ideal. Everyone felt comfortable. I sometimes would say something in five different ways, struggling with cases, and afterwards, laugh it off with my peers. Indiana’s Summer Language Workshop fostered a relaxed learning environment. Monday afternoons were spent at the Wright Food Court, trying to make up interesting Russian lunch conversations with the new grammar. I am certain that we all had moments when we spoke about some very basic things that were of no particular interest to us or our peers just to practice the grammar constructions we learned in class, however, we were always excited to practice. Class was similarly engaging and had a motley of activities that brought Russian culture into the classroom. Sometimes, we learned about new songs while other times were focused on understanding the true meaning of the Russian memes.


Russian level 3 class at Anatolia Restaurant in downtown Bloomington

During our free time on campus, my class explored the downtown Bloomington center, visiting Anatolia restaurant with our grammar professor, Bethany Braley. The food may not have been Russian, but our love for the language was what brought us together in the first place. At the end of the day, we were all people who shared the same interests in utilizing an entire summer to learn a whole year of Russian. My suitemate in Willkie, Liza Zollman, made my summer experience much more adventurous. Even though we were studying different levels of Russian, we both did our best to teach each other as much as possible. Being in a college town during the summer meant that there was going to be some extreme bonding with your closest friend, the suitemate. Whether it was going to Target and speaking only Russian as our secret language or rapping to Russian music as we walked to the gym, she made my daily Russian routine a little different. Often, we would catch ourselves thanking or greeting Indiana University employees in Russian because we were so deep into our random conversations. Speaking Russian was no longer a grammar fear for me. Instead, it became a fun challenge I committed myself to, even when I knew my grammar was not always correct.

Now that the Workshop has ended, I am certain that I will be adding Russian and Eastern European Studies as my second major. Thanks to the Workshop's Brown Bag lunches, I have some goals for my next steps in mastering the language. I hope to study abroad in Russia, soon. Wait did I mean transport by car, plane, or ship? Plane, of course. Yes, this was a difficult concept when solidifying the Russian motion verbs. We take it for granted that English does not have unidirectional and multidirectional verbs along with prefixes that slightly change their meanings, like Russian. Mastering these small quirks is what makes language learning an especially fun challenge. Luckily, I learned some new tips on how to retain Russian through the summer workshop’s language retention talk. Even though the Summer Language Workshop has come to an end, I will remember that Bloomington not only has the best sunsets, chipmunks, and one-colored buildings, but it also is a town full of friendly people and instructors that love languages more than we can even imagine.


Juana Granados (Russian level 3, 2015) is a rising Sophomore at Claremont McKenna College. She is currently majoring in Biology and will soon add Russian Eastern European Studies as her second major. Juana plans to study abroad in Russia once more during her junior year. Apart from becoming a doctor in the future, she hopes that she can find a way to do field research in Russia after she graduates.


Always a Beginner

by Abigail Stoldt


Swahili class at the Summer Language Workshop Talent Show

As our Professor Deo Tungaraza would say, “When you start, always start at the beginning.”  

Sounds logical. How strange that simple logic can sometimes be so difficult to put into practice. As a language student, I have the tendency to expect perfection before I have even learned what to practice. This proved to be especially true this summer, when I, along with five other students, I began my journey of learning Swahili.

I honestly don’t know what I expected when I decided to take this course. Lots of work and studying maybe, scribbling madly, sitting stick straight preparing for a test. How different reality is from expectations! While the Summer Language Workshop (SWSEEL) is one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences I have ever had the opportunity to participate in, it was far from a cold detached academic course, requiring not only dedication and hard work but also discipline, commitment and emotional engagement. I have never poured so much of myself into what I was learning.

The language not only became part of my schedule, but also a part of my life. Once, after an especially challenging morning of classes, my Turkish SWSEEL friend and I decided to treat ourselves to lunch. Upon arriving to the restaurant we both discovered that reading the English menu had become a challenge. After a few moments of struggling with the menu, we both burst out laughing.


Brown Bag Talk on “Ngoma, Zilizopendwa na Bongo Flava: Spotlighting Sociopolitical Aspects of Musical Expressions in East Africa”

Unlike normal courses where you class work for the most part stays in the classroom, language courses become an integral part of who you are as a student, having a profound effect on personal life and day-today social interractions. I don’t know how many times I said “Samahani” instead of “Excuse me” while out and about.
Having spent a big portion of the day in a small class of 6 students, my fellow classmates became not only my friends but my brothers and sisters in the journey. We consoled and laughed with each other, complained and rejoiced. We held each other to a higher standard.

Along with rigorous academics, SWSEEL also encouraged me along the path of Swahili culture. One cannot learn a language and without learning  culture. These two are like having a canvas and brushes but no paints. For example, our class attended a talk about popular music styles in Eastern Africa, led by Masamoto Yonezu, a graduate student at the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, where we were introduced to the ngoma , taarab , zilizopendwa , and Bongo Flava musics and learned about the sociopolitical contexts in which these diverse genres exist. Hearing about the different styles of music that are woven into the culture of Eastern Africa deepened my appreciation and passion for learning Swahili as well as the diverse cultures of the areas where it is spoken. Investing in the culture of your chosen language completes your learning in way that can never be filled by studying vocabulary alone.


Masamoto Yonezu performing popular Swahili music for the Summer Language Workshop

Professor Tungaraza would often repeat: “In the fullness of time, we will learn.” Deliberate and unhurried in his teaching style, Mwalimu Deo guided us throughout the course, helping us not only in honing our conversation, writing and reading skills, but also to be patient.  Professor Tungaraza’s thoughtful approach to teaching was cultivated over many years of language instruction in the US and East Africa. Prior to coming to Indiana University in 2011, he taught Swahili at The Ohio State University and at Louisiana State University, and held various posts at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, including Founder Director of the Dar-es-Salaam University Press. And so, while studying grammar and words with Mwalimu Tungaraza, we also learned that, starting at the beginning means crawling then stumbling as you being to walk. Forcing your mouth the produce foreign sounds, tripping over vowel combinations. Learning to ask how things are done in a culture versus why.  

What I will take away from this summer is the fact that learning a new language involves every part of you. It is an experience you wouldn’t trade for anything. After all, every good story must have a base to build upon. This is my story, and I wouldn’t have wanted to start it any other way.



Abigail Stoldt (Swahili level 1, 2015) is currently sophomore at Indiana University, majoring in Linguistics and minoring in African languages.  Originally from Monroe City, Indiana, she is also an Air Force ROTC cadet. In her free time, she enjoys bicycle riding and making food for her friends. She hopes to one day try every restaurant on 4th street in Bloomington to the point of having a favorite dish at each establishment.

Turkish with Niko

by Zack Suhr


Turkish class at Sofra cafe

One of the reasons the Summer Language Workshop remains such a vibrant institution after 65 years is the sheer diversity of its participants in any given year. The program brings together students, scholars, soldiers, and professionals from every walk of life, all converging on Bloomington with the common aim of learning a less commonly taught language. Our small Introductory Turkish cohort alone counted among its members two future historians, one sociologist in training, a Russianist, a seasoned scholar of Persian poetry, and three recent IU graduates on the cusp of commissioning as officers in the U.S. military. These more advanced students were joined by an undergraduate studying journalism, who aspires to complete IU’s Turkish Flagship Program, and one brave soul—affectionately known as “the baby” of the bunch—who will enter IU as a freshman in the fall.


Workshop's Introductory and Intermediate Turkish instructors Nicholas Kontovas and Zeynep Elbasan-Bozdogan on the last day of the Workshop at Sofra cafe

At the heart of the Workshop’s success is its ability to draw top-notch instructors who are as versed in sound pedagogy as they are in the language they teach. In addition to his infectious enthusiasm and good humor, our Turkish instructor Nicholas Kontovas (hereinafter known as Niko) brought to the classroom his expertise as a trained linguist and truly enviable polyglot. When learning a new grammatical concept, it was common to hear such asides as: “If you’ve studied Spanish, French, or Russian, you’re already familiar with this idea. If you know Chinese, [such-and-such concept] applies to Turkish, as well.”  It is now commonplace to say that diversity in the classroom enriches the learning environment for everyone. To a great extent, however, the benefit derived from a diverse cohort depends on the skill of the instructor at recognizing and drawing out students’ diverse reference points during classroom discussion, then connecting them to the themes of the course. Niko did this with ease, swinging from Persian poetry to Turkish politics to Game of Thrones in ways that somehow didn’t distract, but brought home relevant points. It is no small feat to keep a first-year language course—especially one that aims to provide an immersion environment—from slipping into the shallow or tedious. But Niko’s colorful encouragement and the breakneck pace of the program kept us all constantly energized and on our toes.  It’s hard to imagine a more talented and supportive guide to facilitate our first forays into the Turkish language.



For when classes and homework aren’t enough, the Workshop also offers a series of afternoon lectures and activities that run the gamut of topics relevant to different program languages. This year, professors and graduate students spoke on language-learning strategies, Mongol historiography, Islamic eschatologies, and East African music, to name just a few. Since these lectures are open to all Workshop participants, they serve as an important platform for dialogue and cross-pollination between the different language programs. One of the extracurricular highlights for Turkish students, in particular, was a demonstration of the Turkish art of Ebru— “painting on water”—followed by the opportunity to try our own hand at the craft. Not being the arts-and-crafts type myself, I was skeptical at first. But we all genuinely enjoyed our attempts at this very forgiving art form, which allows even artistically challenged slobs like myself to turn out a reasonably attractive abstract creation.

Since the Arabic and Russian cohorts are so large, separate weekly lectures are offered in those two languages. As a student of Russian, I especially appreciate the depth and breadth of Russian-language resources available at IU. And I personally enjoyed attending the weekly lectures on Russian mass media offered by the legendary Anna Sharogradskaya, civil society activist and Russian-grammar policewoman par excellence. For over two decades her high standards and keen wit have been a fixture at the Workshop, earning the admiration and affection of generations of students.


Introductory Turkish class

One regret expressed by many participants is that the time-intensive nature of the Workshop’s courses leaves little time to enjoy the advantages of summer in Bloomington. While the city offers an unlikely assortment of cultural resources and entertainment options year-round, summer provides a respite from the throngs of students who will arrive with the new academic year. Restaurants and bars can be enjoyed without the usual crowds, the Jacobs School offers an abundance of inexpensive, world-class musical performances, and the idyllic IU campus is at its most verdant this time of year. The Workshop is truly a one-of-a-kind place, and the number of students who return to Bloomington for a second (or third) summer of study is a testament to the program’s effectiveness and the strength of the relationships formed there. I couldn’t have asked for a better community in which to embark on my study of Turkish.


Zack Suhr (Turkish level 1, 2015 and Russian level 9, 2014) is a master’s student at Indiana University’s Russian and East European Institute. His academic interests include Russian foreign policy, religion and politics in the post-Soviet space, and literary translation.




A Few Good Turkmen

by Kacey Evilsizor


Introductory Turkmen class with the Turkmen instructor Ejegyz Saparova

To be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into this year’s Summer Language Workshop. I study mostly China and Mongolia during the Mongol Empire and certainly had to do some Googling to determine whether or not studying Turkmen fit into my plans. This would be my third time participating in the Summer Language Workshop on top of other intensive language programs I have had in the past, so logistically, I knew what I was getting myself into, but…Turkmen? I knew I wanted to take a Turkic language, but I prefer a smaller class size where I can get it, so I thought that introductory Turkish, which is among the most popular offerings at the Workshop and draws quite a crowd, may not be for me. There is also the matter of the availability of Turkmen—it is not always offered at the Workshop (in fact, before this year it had not been offered since 2009), and so if I had any interest in studying it, this may be my only opportunity. I am also in the midst of finishing up at Indiana University, so the luxury of having a fine language workshop just down the road could have been drawing to a close. As a self-dubbed “language hoarder,” I did not want to miss the chance to study a unique and less commonly taught language.


Jaime Bue and Kacey Evilsizor

But first thing’s first: after enrolling myself, I did a bit of goading in order to talk my good friend Jaime Bue, a fellow master’s student in the Central Eurasian Studies department and another frequent taker of language classes, into partaking in what was sure to be an interesting experience. Jaime and I met while taking Mongolian at the Summer Language Workshop in 2013 and bonded instantly over a shared love of China, languages, cats, and retreating to Bear’s Place after class to unwind over lunch and a cold beer. She is great at thinking on her feet, even in new languages, and has an innate ability to make class fun. Plus, with my time at IU nearing an end, this would be a “last hurrah” of sorts for us. To my delight, she decided to participate, and our Turkmen adventure began.

Now for the moment of greatest anticipation: meeting the famed Turkmen teacher Ejegyz Saparova, about whom everyone, upon hearing I was planning to take Turkmen, raved. By all accounts, she was a skilled language teacher and an enjoyable human being, and these accounts were right. To my mind, it is nearly impossible not to admire someone who, after over 20 years of teaching her native tongue to non-native speakers, is still so enthusiastic about all of its nuance and minutiae. Ejegyz apologetically used nearly flawless English to explain how her spoken English skills had become rusty while in Turkmenistan over the last six years, and we were off: she quickly fostered a challenging yet rewarding classroom atmosphere, and we began to rocket through Turkmen. I say “rocket” because, much to our surprise, Jaime and I found ourselves uniquely well-suited to the study of Turkmen: Jaime has a background in Russian, and I have one in Persian (shout-out to the classes we took at the 2014 Summer Language Workshop!).


Rehearsing for the Talent Show with Ejegyz Saparova

Stemming from the time of the Soviet Union, the Russian language has had a profound influence on the Turkmen language, and in fact, most people living in Turkmenistan, Ejegyz included, are fluent in Russian. Additionally, from its geographic position just north of Iran, Turkmen has seen the importation of a number of Persian vocabulary words. These two language backgrounds, coupled with an understanding of case endings and vowel harmony that we cultivated in Mongolian class, meant that we were able to move at a very fast pace. Before long, we were reading authentic newspaper articles and tackling grammar concepts that a less confident and prepared teacher would not have dared introduce to such a relatively novice class. However, Ejegyz, armed with more ideas for classroom activities than even our extended class sessions would allow, methodically and excitedly turned us into well-rounded Turkmen language speakers.

She also taught us about Turkmenistan. I cannot speak to Jaime’s understanding of the country before this summer, as she studies contemporary matters and has a more developed knowledge of Central Asia than I do, but for my level of understanding, please refer to my aforementioned Googling expedition. I could find Turkmenistan on a map, and that was about it.


Turkmen class performing at the Talent Show

Ejegyz introduced us to a country that is unique among the countries that surround it, as well as the unique life she has led there. She is grateful for the modernizing influence of the Soviet Union that allowed her to be educated, an opportunity she may not have had in traditional Turkmenistan. Her achievements include getting a Ph.D. in Moscow, despite the discrimination she faced as a Turkmen woman, and writing her dissertation on contrastive analysis of Turkmen and English grammar. She has also published an introductory Turkmen textbook and raised three daughters, all of whom are now independent and educated professionals in their own right. As she describes it, the Soviet Union was like a caravan, and Turkmenistan was one of the last camels in line. When the Soviet Union fell and the caravan was forced to turn around, Turkmenistan did not have so far to go in order to right itself, avoiding the economic and political turmoil faced by other Soviet republics and satellites. As such, to this day, the quality of life there is very good, and the culture is rich and uniquely Turkmen.

On our last day of class, tears sprang to her eyes as she told us how, though she is very happy in Turkmenistan with her husband, children, and grandchildren, she was pleased to have this opportunity to come back to Bloomington to teach and reconnect with friends she had made over 17 years of teaching at the SLW but had not seen since 2009. It was certainly a challenging and unforgettable summer, both for her and for us, and I hope this is not the last time Ejegyz takes a trip to Bloomington and shares her enthusiasm with a new class of fresh Turkmen language students.


Kacey Evilsizor (Turkmen level 1, 2015) is a recent graduate of the Central Eurasian Studies master's program at Indiana University. She is now a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University and a three time alumna of the Summer Language Workshop. Her research interests include Chinese and Persian literature during the Mongol Empire as well as comparative literature.


Ukraine Beyond the Headlines

by Kathryn David


Introductory Ukrainian class performing at the Workshop's Talent Show

“One time I went to Ukraine and someone said to me, ‘Thanks for bringing back the Ukrainian language,’” Natalie Kravchuk says while SWSEEL students put the finishing touches on their pysanki, or traditional Ukrainian painted eggs. “Growing up we never thought we would see Ukraine free.”

Ms. Kravchuk’s pysanki workshop was one of many cultural events for students studying the Ukrainian language this summer at the Summer Language Workshop (SWSEEL). In the midst of the devastating conflict currently affecting Ukraine, the students of Svitlana Melnyk’s Introductory Ukrainian course had the opportunity to learn about a language and region with a rich history and culture that extends far beyond the events dominating today’s headlines.

On June 29th, just three weeks after beginning the language, students of Ukrainian as well as SWSEEL students of all different languages learned about the ancient art of pysanky- an art form dating back from pre-Christian Ukraine that uses hot wax and traditional vegetable dyes to create elaborate designs with an egg as a canvas. The instructor of the pysanky workshop, Natalie Kravchuk, shared with students how making pysanky was an important way for her family to stay connected to their Ukrainian roots in the United States.


Natalie Kravchuk leading the pisanki workshop

“My Ukrainian grandfather learned the art of pysanky in Galicia [a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now mostly in present-day Ukraine] and continued to make pysanky when he trained in Vienna as a welder. When my father emigrated to America, he worked as a tool and dye maker, manufacturing many of the tools needed to create pysanky,” Ms. Kravchuk explained.

While the Ukrainian instructor Svitlana Melnyk’s daughter worked with Natalie Kravchuk to become a skilled pysanky maker, Professor Melnyk prefers to show her expertise on Ukraine in teaching Ukrainian language, culture, and history. In addition to grammar, orthography and vocabulary, introductory Ukrainian at SWSEEL also exposes students to the literary traditions of the Ukrainian language. In the course, students had the opportunity to read and translate poetry by writers like Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka, as well as watch scenes from Ukrainian films. Professor Melnyk has been teaching at SWSEEL since 2007 and teaches both Russian and Ukrainian during the academic year at IU.

“I enjoy using the course to introduce students to Ukrainian literature and poetry. Even though literary works are challenging for an introductory course, even small excerpts from Ukrainian writers are able to demonstrate to students some of the most beautiful aspects of Ukrainian literary culture,” Professor Melnyk shared.

Professor Melnyk’s efforts to teach students about Ukrainian literature and art brought the class to the Indiana University Art Museum, where the works of Ukrainian sculptor Oleksandr Archipenko are featured in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World. In a class excursion to the museum, students learned about Archipenko and his role in Europe’s 20th century avant-garde movement.  


Professor Phillips discussing the current situation in Ukraine

Given the difficult situation in today’s Ukraine, SWSEEL presented many opportunities to discuss contemporary Ukrainian politics for students of all languages, from a lecture in Russian given by Yelena Zotova about Ukraine’s position in the Russian national imagination to a presentation by Indiana University’s Sarah Phillips on Ukraine one year after the “Euro-Maidan” movement.

Professor Phillips discussed her travels through Ukraine and how much the country has changed from the early 1990s when she began her research to the summer of 2015. One of the changes she mentioned was the use of the Ukrainian language.

“I always try to speak to people in what language they are comfortable in, and now more and more people say they are more comfortable in Ukrainian,” Professor Phillips noted.

In addition, many of the new so called “civil society” organizations in Ukraine operate in the Ukrainian language as they publish materials and try to raise awareness about issues plaguing Ukraine, including corruption and poverty.

The students studying Ukrainian this summer came from cities as far as Tashkent, Uzbekistan to as close as Batesville, Indiana.

 Jennifer Popowycz, a current Ph.D. student in Ukrainian and German history, grew up in North Carolina with a father and grandmother who spoke Ukrainian but only began learning the language this summer. While Ukrainian will be useful for her dissertation research, she has also loved being able to share with her father her new language skills.

Gregory Aimaro also became interested in Ukraine because of his heritage (his great-grandfather spoke Ukrainian) and research interests.  Gregory will begin graduate school in the fall at University of Chicago to study Ukrainian-Jewish relations and other topics in Ukrainian history.

“I knew people who had taken Ukrainian with Svitlana [Melnyk] and I heard nothing but good things about her. After the course, I can say that I definitely agree,” Gregory added. He also has plans to travel to Ukraine this fall.

The class’s youngest student, Lisa Miller, is an IU undergraduate majoring in Russian.


Introductory Ukrainian instructor Dr. Svitlana Melnyk at the Workshop's Food and Music Festival

“When I was filling out the application for SWSEEL I was originally going to apply for Russian, but then noticed that Ukrainian was being offered. Knowing that this was a language I wanted to learn someday, I thought why not start now? I am very happy with my decision!” Lisa explained. She plans to continue with both Russian and Ukrainian at IU.

The course also included graduate students studying various aspects of Ukrainian history, including Oksana Cherezova a Ph.D. student in political science at Indiana University interested in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Geoff Durham, a Master’s student at Indiana’s REI interested in Ukrainian dissident movements.

Learning the language and the time spent outside the classroom discussing Ukraine proved an invaluable resource to these students. However, Professor Melnyk maintains that her favorite part of SWSEEL is the presentations she hears from her students in class.

“Even in the elementary level, presentations truly show how much students progress. The class presentations are always my favorite part because the students see how much they can say and it gives them a chance to use the language to speak about something they are passionate about,” Professor Melnyk said.

Geoff Durham also found the class’s progress remarkable. “Everyone is eager to learn the language, but there is also a genuine curiosity towards the culture and history and Ukraine. We’ve managed to sustain a level of intense study without burning out after eight weeks. At the risk of sounding immodest, the progress we’ve made is pretty astounding,” said Geoff.


Kathryn David (Ukrainian level 1, 2015) studied Introductory Ukrainian with Svitlana Melnyk this summer, with the generous help of a FLAS scholarship. She is a Ph.D. student in history at New York University. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine from 2012-2013. 




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