The IU Summer Language Workshop Alumni Newsletter | Summer 2016


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 2016 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.


Looking Back on a Summer at SWSEEL

by William Franke


Arabic Level 1 students learning how to make traditional Arabic dishes

College students like myself are by nature required to make choices day after day. Many of these choices are easy and logical, such as choosing to take a 10am lecture instead of the one at 8:30 even if it’s a little more of a walk, or deciding to invest in a bike to make those freezing winter mornings go by just a little bit faster. However, many choices fall into a much different category – a category which anyone besides yourself (and sometimes even yourself) will react more often than not with feelings of complete confusion. My choice to spend nine weeks studying Arabic at IU with the SWSEEL program is the undisputed king of the latter category.

The reactions of your friends and family will be pretty much what you would expect when you tell them you are spending your summer to study whichever language you choose for four hours a day, rather than going on your annual vacation to the lake, or spending late nights with your friends you may not have seen since last spring or earlier. At many times you may start to feel the way they do once you start seeing pictures of your friends at the beach or backpacking across Europe, and heck, you may not even want to do this yourself to begin with. However, if you would give me a chance, I would love to explain why this program will be one of the best college or career decisions you’ve made up to this point (and if you didn’t choose to do this and rather you are being forced to, well…use my words to comfort you).


Arabic level 1 students working to finish a vocabulary puzzle

If you are reading this, then that more than likely means you will be spending June and July living in a dorm or apartment building near campus with a bunch of people varying in ages who are in the exact same boat as you are. You know what that means? Instant friends! More likely than not, you will find someone with whom you will serve in the same armed forces branch, have the same dreams of working overseas, or share similar regional interests. No matter where you go in this program, you are bound to find somebody whose ear you can talk off for hours without even introducing yourselves first.

What would this reflection of my time in SWSEEL be if I didn’t dedicate even a few words to the excellent instructors you will have to guide you through this program? Throughout your time in the program you will be surrounded by some of the most capable and enthusiastic professors I have ever met who will dedicate their time to making you comfortable and confident in your target language. They understand the intense demand of learning so much material in such a short amount of time and will try to make your experience as fun and engaging as possible. During my time in Arabic, we had two cooking days (one day I made hummus and the other day kefta), roleplayed a chaotic market place, learned how to speed-date, and our whole class even put on a play at the end (I was the lead role, so, you should probably find that).


Arabic 1 students recreating the chaotic marketplace in class

I hope this was able to give you a good idea of what your experience will be like during SWSEEL. I won’t lie and say that you won’t feel tired and bored from time to time, but you will meet so many new people, share so many new experiences, and don’t forget you’re learning a year’s worth of a language in two months! What you are about to do during this program will surely be one of your most rewarding learning experiences, and I’m sure once you leave IU after those two months you won’t regret it for a second!


William Franke (Arabic level 1, 2016) is a sophomore at Indiana University. He is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan and is majoring in International Studies.  William is very interested in global affairs, particularly in the Middle East, and is currently studying Arabic and Persian. He hopes to study in Morocco or Jordan in the next few years.  After graduation William aspires to start a career in national intelligence or work for the US Department of State. 


Here I Am Again: My SWSEEL Summer Studying Azerbaijani

by Karli Storm


Introductory Azerbaijani instructor Vafa Yunusova leading the class

I am a four-time SWSEEL alum, having participated in Advanced Russian with Anna Arkadevna Sharogradskaya in 2011, Introductory Kazakh with Fatima Moldashova in 2012, Introductory Georgian with Dodona Kizira in 2013, and, just this last summer, Introductory Azerbaijani with Vafa Yunusova. There is a reason why I keep coming back for more—and no, it isn’t simply because I am what you might call an over-achiever (or perhaps a glutton for punishment)—you see, I simply can’t get enough of what SWSEEL has to offer! Few programs in the United States give students the opportunity to study such a wide array of lesser-taught, lesser-studied languages such as those SWSEEL offers from year to year, and fewer programs still can offer students the chance to make such incredible leaps and bounds in their language of choice in such a short period of time.

SWSEEL brings in the best of the best in terms of language teachers, the vast majority of whom are native speakers of languages in question, and offers a limited number of fellowships and scholarships for talented prospective students. It is thanks to the Title VIII Fellowship that I have been able to partake in Advanced Russian and Introductory Kazakh, Georgian, and Azerbaijani through the SWSEEL program. This past “SWSEEL summer”, as I shall call it, was no different from the others in that it was an all-around amazing language-learning experience. It was in anticipation of this exceptional experience that I crossed the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from Joensuu, Finland, to Bloomington, Indiana, where I would spend the majority of the summer.


Introductory Azerbaijani class

My doctoral research at the University of Eastern Finland concerns the development of collective identity among Georgia’s Azeri population in the border region of Kvemo Kartli. My doctoral research has brought me back to the South Caucasus a number of times since my time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in 2009-2010, and, whereas I had typically relied upon my knowledge of Russian to communicate with locals, I had hoped to one day be able to converse with my participants in Azerbaijani. I was thrilled when I learned that SWSEEL would again offer Azerbaijani, as it had been a few years since it was last offered, and I immediately sent in my application. Imagine my surprise to learn that my Azerbaijani teacher would be my old friend and colleague from my days as a Fulbright ETA at the Azerbaijani University of Languages in Baku, Vafa Yunusova! This news was especially exciting, as not only did I know Vafa to be an extremely kind person, but also a very well-regarded professor with a knack for bringing out the very best in her students.


Vafa Yunusova and students at the Food Festival

This past summer I found myself among a group of highly-talented and interesting individuals, all engaged in various stages of graduate studies, all with a vested interest in learning Azerbaijani. With Vafa at the helm, our group of seven students began our foray into the vast, beautiful, and occasionally tumultuous sea of the Azerbaijani language. For some, it was completely new territory, while, for others, certain elements of the vocabulary and grammatical system were at least somewhat familiar. As one might imagine, spending more than twenty hours a week with the same individuals can be somewhat of a trying experience; however, as a class we managed to come together over the course of the summer, and really learned how to accommodate each another’s needs in the classroom.

Vafa never failed to enlighten us with little informational tidbits about Azerbaijan, its history, people, and cuisine, and we were lucky enough on more than one occasion to sample tasty Azerbaijani dishes, including paxlava (the Azerbaijani variant of baklava), şəkərbura (a crescent moon-shaped pastry filled with ground nuts, sugar, and cardamom that is absolutely delicious with Azerbaijani çay, or tea) and şirin plov (a rice dish that contains lamb, dried fruits and nuts and is baked inside a pastry shell and seasoned with saffron). Our group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to listen to Maestro Abbasqulu Nəcəfzadə, a famous Azerbaijani musician who skillfully plays a number of traditional Azerbaijani instruments, as he gave an open-to-the-public talk about Azerbaijani folk instruments and later gave a stunning musical performance at IU’s annual Silk Road Festival. I, too, tried my hand at Azerbaijani music; having decided to take part in SWSEEL annual talent show, I performed Safura’s hip and modern take on the classic Azerbaijani folk song, “Sarı gəlin”, or “The Golden Bride”.


Traditional Azerbaijani dishes at the Workshop's Food Festival

Before I knew it, the course was coming to an end, and I was left with a rather bittersweet feeling. As an intensive language course, SWSEEL demands a lot of effort on the part of the language learner, what with daily homework assignments, weekly quizzes, bi-weekly exams, and the occasional presentation and topical essay. My classmates and I certainly felt as though a break was in order, although most of us expressed the desire to keep up with our studies of Azerbaijani as well as a fear of gradually losing our hard-won skills in the language. Yet here I am, writing this small text on my computer from my fieldwork site in Georgia, a small city populated mostly by Georgian Azeris.

I’ve learned so very much, having begun the course with only a little knowledge of the language, and having emerged from the course as, supposedly, someone who speaks at an “advanced-low” level (according to the individual trained to assess the level of Title VIII recipients like myself, anyway). Thus far I have used my new skills in the local bazaar, on social networks with Azerbaijani-speaking friends, and here and there in conversation with locals. Now that I have a decent command of the language, I have a vast array of Azerbaijani-language sources at my fingertips (and this is no small thing to a researcher!).

My classmates are all highly-motivated and bright individuals, and I have no doubt that they will put their new language skills to good use as well. I also believe that, as “Azerbaijan watchers”, our paths will cross again one day. Until then, I will forever cherish the evenings that my classmates and I spent exchanging silly, self-styled, and often politically-tinged memes in Azerbaijani over social media networks (only after completing our homework assignments, of course!), even when, for some reason unbeknownst to me, the aforementioned memes often featured my own face super-imposed over others’ faces in increasingly strange situations involving “the Donald”. Tenacity, hard-work, and a good sense of humor—these are the necessary ingredients for a successful “SWSEEL summer”, and, if you play your cards right, your SWSEEL summer might just be one of the best of your life.


Karli Storm (Azerbaijani level 1, 2016; Georgian level 1, 2013, Kazakh level 1, 2012; Russian level 9, 2011) graduated from Drake University in 2009 with a dual-degree in International Relations and Politics, after which time she spent one year in Azerbaijan (2009-2010) as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at the University of Languages in Baku. Karli graduated with her M.A. degree from IU's Russian and East European Institute in 2013. After completing her Master's degree, she moved to Joensuu, Finland, where she would begin her doctoral studies as a Fulbright Student Grantee to Finland. Karli is obtaining her doctoral degree within the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies at the University of Eastern Finland within the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies and the doctoral program in Social and Cultural Encounters. She expects to defend her doctoral dissertation in 2018.


There and Back Again: Adventures in Studying BCS at SWSEEL

Austin Matthews


BCS class enjoying their farewell breakfast

My journey to the Summer Language Workshop was several years in the making. In 2011, as a relatively new graduate student, I discovered that my interests lay in the study of former communist regimes, mostly in Eastern Europe. In researching the field, I discovered SWSEEL and the language opportunities that they offer. Having the chance to improve my language proficiencies in areas not traditionally offered by my university both personally and professionally appealed to me. However, as any graduate student will tell you, money is always an issue. I knew that in order to participate, I would need funding from a grant or fellowship. Furthermore, again like many graduate students, I suffered from a pretty bad case of “imposter syndrome.” I thought that my credentials were not good enough to apply for a FLAS or Title VIII grant, so I didn’t even apply. In hindsight, that was a mistake, but I felt that if I was going to apply for funding, I needed a lot more on my CV to make my application attractive.

Fast-forward to the end of 2015. By then I had earned a Master’s degree, presented at several conferences, and taught two college classes. I was about to take my Ph.D. comprehensive exams and was finishing up the last of my required graduate courses. Furthermore, within a few months I would be moving into a new apartment with my girlfriend, so needless to say I had a lot on my plate. Looking toward the summer after my exams, I realized this could be one of the last chances I had to attend a summer workshop. I remembered SWSEEL and how badly I had wanted to attend in the past years. With more confidence in my credentials and the knowledge of how important learning a field language would be for my career, I decided to apply for the workshop and a Title VIII grant. In April, right before my birthday and beginning my comp exams, I got one of the most wonderful emails I’ve ever received. It informed me that I had been selected for Title VIII funding and was accepted to the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian program at SWSEEL. There were no longer any obstacles in my way to attending this program that my heart had always been set on.


Dr. Marina Antic lecturing on the Yugoslav literary canon and narratives of identity

My main objective at SWSEEL was to familiarize myself with Serbo-Croatian so I could translate and study communist party documents from the former Yugoslav Republic. The BCS course was relatively small compared to some other languages, but that made for an even better experience in my opinion. Our class had five students of the most varying backgrounds you can imagine and an instructor who was native to Croatia, Teuta Ismaili. Teuta’s instruction was personal and insightful, giving us all the chance to learn more than I could’ve ever imagined I would in two months. Being from Croatia, her instruction also brought a “real-world” element, helping us understand contexts and cultural elements that would’ve been difficult to acquire without the help of a native speaker. Along with language instruction, our class also benefited from cultural lessons focused on the Balkan region. This included discussing regional politics at our weekly class dinners (language tables), watching movies that helped us understand social and ethnic conflicts, and listening to traditional and popular music to understand common vernacular and colloquialisms.


BCS class performing at the Workshop's Talent Show

I also attribute the small class size and Teuta’s enthusiasm as a teacher to all five members of my class being able to personally customize additional components of our language learning during the program. For example, my interest in politics and communist history was facilitated with Teuta helping me decipher topically-related words and giving me first-hand accounts through her personal understanding of those areas. Language comprehension and personal academic goals were fostered and facilitated to a degree that I would never have expected in a traditional language college course. Native understanding, personal attention, and intensive immersion all contributed to a language workshop experience that I would say is second to none. Without the general structure of SWSEEL and the top-flight instruction of Teuta, I would likely never have the opportunity to learn those wonderful languages and be able to engage with them in an academic manner. After attending IU for the summer, I am excited at the future prospects the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian program has afforded me. The Summer Language Program has afforded me the skills to engage in research and hopefully one day explore the beauty and culture of the Balkans while speaking their wonderful language.


Austin Matthews (BCS level 1, 2016) is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Louisiana State University. He received a Title VIII award to help support his studies at the 2016 Indiana University Summer Language Workshop. He specializes in autocratic government, elite strategy, and Eastern European party politics.



I Have a Feeling We Aren’t in Indiana Anymore

by Micah Strain-Riggs


Chinese class with Jiang lǎoshī

“Why would you spend your whole summer in a classroom studying Chinese five hours a day?”  This was the question that every person I knew asked me throughout the summer.  I applied for the Chinese SWSEEL program because after endless hours of researching programs across the nation, I decided it was the best program to help me learn Mandarin.  After finishing my summer and “surviving” the intense class days, I can say with confidence I chose the right program.

Our class consisted of twelve students and two professors, which is slightly different from other languages in SWSEEL since we had an extra professor.  Jiang lǎoshi taught our four-hour lecture Monday through Friday followed by a one-hour drill session by Chén lǎoshi.  Both Jiang and Chén lǎoshi are PHD students at IU and are the best professors I have had the opportunity to learn from throughout my years so far in university.  Every day they came to class super energetic with new ideas to help us learn that day’s information.


Learning Calligraphy with Chén lǎoshi on Friday.

The first day of class seems that it was just yesterday.  It started off with the students introducing themselves and giving a couple minute speech describing our lives and reason for joining SWSEEL. During the following week, Jiang lǎoshi spontaneously asked us to give a similar speech followed by a Q&A but this time in Chinese.  One by one we stood and by the time the last student finished we all looked at each other in amazement.  We had just given our first speeches in Chinese.  It was such an accomplishment.  That was just the first insight we had as to how quickly the class would move and the amount we would learn that summer.

I attribute the efficient learning and growth in the language to the dynamic teaching style of both professors.  Yes, you will do plenty of drills, grammar work and so on, but along with this the professors incorporate their own personal teaching styles and real world applications. No day of class ever felt the same.  Fridays in particular were always different.  Fridays are the days we had more culture incorporated into our class.  We did many cultural activities – some being learning Chinese opera and board games, calligraphy, and cooking dumplings. The days that we learned opera and cooked the dumplings our teachers invited their friends to teach those components of class and talk with us to help push our new language abilities in real world applications.

Chow Bar

Eating at Chow Bar and practicing Chinese with Jiang lǎoshī, Chén lǎoshī.

My favorite day of the program was when our teachers designed a scavenger hunt.  Once our class was over for the day she divided us into three teams, gave us all our first clues, then we were off to the races.  The game was very well thought out and difficult, especially due to all the clues being in Chinese.  I have never been in such an intense game in my life. Seeing the reactions of all of the other students as we were running in and out of buildings and down the streets speaking Mandarin was hilarious.  The game finally ended at the Chinese restaurant on campus where we got to order and talk with the waitress.  This was perfect since that week’s vocabulary was all about dining and eating customs.


Taiji class on Wednesday with Brian Flaherty

In addition to the culture components and guests that would come on Friday, we also had many other extracurricular activities.  Every Wednesday there was an opportunity to take Taiji classes (a form of martial arts) from an instructor on campus.

Also, every Friday afternoon there were movies, which were great for practicing listening comprehension.  The final activity we had was a talent show between all of the language courses at the SWSEEL program.  It was a great opportunity to hear and learn about the other languages as well as represent Mandarin.  Our class sang a popular Chinese song as well as each of us giving a speech to the audience.


End of the year SWSEEL talent show

The summer was filled with many fun and memorable moments. Looking back on the summer it was the hardest academic course I have had throughout my collegiate career.  One of my favorite quotes from class is when a group of students and I were speaking with Chen Laoshi about how hard that particular week of material was and she said this week's motto is, ”just try to survive”.   That quickly became my motto for the rest of the summer.   The encouragement and help that both Chen and Jiang lǎoshi gave throughout the semester is truly unfathomable.  They were there to help or guide us 24/7.   I have never felt so supported or been so close to professors before.  They both truly care about the learning and growth of their students.

Now that the summer is complete, I look forward to continuing the study of Mandarin going into the fall.  This summer has given me a great foundation to continue and become proficient in the language.  After I graduate, I plan to attend law school and then use my Mandarin in corporate law or in the Foreign Service.  With speaking fluent Spanish and Chinese in the future I look forward to seeing what opportunities these languages bring.  I am very thankful for the opportunity SWSEEL has offered and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn another language.


Micah Strain-Riggs (Chinese level 1, 2016) is currently a junior at Indiana University double majoring in International Studies and Spanish with a minor in Mandarin. The summer of 2017 he plans to study abroad in China. In the future, Micah intends to go to law school focusing on either corporate or constitutional law. He hopes to work abroad and use his language abilities in his daily life.



Suvel Võib!

by Skylar Lipman



“In summer, you can!” This colloquial Estonian saying describes the energy one experiences during summer, that energy that drives people to the beach, to their friends and families, and to tackle life-long projects. This summer encouraged me to do just that; through the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop, I began to tackle a life-long goal of mine to learn the language and culture of Estonia, helping me to connect with family, and perhaps one day taking me to the beautiful beaches of Estonia. The IU Summer Language Workshop coupled with the Baltic Studies Summer Institute (BALSSI) provided many opportunities for focused study and for connecting with individuals, guaranteeing a strong start in language acquisition and securing multiple paths for continued studies.

This summer course was organized such that students were truly immersed in a language-learning environment. The result was eight weeks of focused, meaningful study. Main components of the Workshop included interactive classes, coffee hours, films, and presentations by guest lecturers. The variety of programming helped me approach the language from multiple angles, and kept the language-learning process from stagnating. Classes encompassed the bulk of daily activities. BALSSI's small class sizes allowed the class a great deal of freedom in pace and in specific materials covered. There were three students studying Estonian, myself included, each with distinct interests. Because of the flexibility of the program, opportunities for learning vocabulary relevant to our interests were plentiful. Coffee hours were wonderful ways of relaxing and practicing Estonian in a more casual environment – a valuable opportunity to continue to be immersed in the language after the morning courses. Outside-of-class activities, such as cooking demonstrations, were also enjoyable opportunities to learn the language and meaningfully engage with the target culture. BALSSI’s varied programming also included weekly Baltic film screenings, ranging from post-WWII to contemporary Estonian and Lithuanian films, and helped students connect with Baltic societies in unique ways. Each film offered a new perspective on relevant issues, and exposed students to regionally important political, historical, and current events and views. These films, combined with lecturers, opened students to new ideas, spurring new thoughts and questions.


Bart Pushaw, an IU and BALSSI alum, giving a lecture on Baltic Art

An important feature of this year's program was a guest speaker who truly did combine the BALSSI film series with lectures. Liina-Ly Roos gave two presentations and consequently lead two discussions surrounding cinema in the Baltic region. Through the weekly BALSSI film screenings and discussing these as well as other films with Roos, students from Estonian, Lithuanian, and Russian courses came together to explore memory in the Baltic States, drawing from a range of sources reaching from haikus to contemporary music, stretching our imaginations to ponder time and even the existence of a unified “Baltic” identity. Discussing such matters as memory and time invited students to adopt a new mentality, a rich, culturally-minded addition to our goals of language acquisition.

Issues of memory and time were further explored in the BALSSI talk titled "Baltic Modern: Art in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania," this time through visual art such as painting, architecture and urban planning, graffiti, and photography, among others mediums. Bart Pushaw, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland and a BALSSI alum, presented on major Baltic art movements throughout an extraordinary range of time periods, connecting them with cultural and relevant political developments in the Baltic States and worldwide. Pushaw became an unexpectedly important connection for me personally, as we discussed the concepts of nationalism, impacts of music on visual art and vice versa, as well as the connections between these arts and ecology. Pushaw is now a wonderful reference and resource for me as a student of Baltic culture, as we have kept in contact, further discussing these themes.

A topic that permeated all BALSSI films or lectures was the topic of politics, from the distant to recent past and to the present. Pushaw's photographs of graffiti were quite direct in addressing the current political atmosphere, putting a humorous spin on the shared agendas of prominent political figures. Many conversations on the Estonian political climate as well as many relating to Estonian culture turned, if only briefly, to recent Soviet occupation, an interesting topic for many, and one with very relevant implications today. On this, and on the continuing topic of a “Baltic” identity, Indiana University's Professor Toivo Raun spoke succinctly and purposefully, using concrete figures to compare countries, regions, and even cultural values. Despite these widely varying approaches to understanding Estonia, it is easy to identify common threads among Professor Raun's, Pushaw's, and Roos's research interests.


Baltic Music band the Hedgehogs performing for BALSSI students

I cannot delve into each lecture relevant to the Estonian program, as there is an infinite number of intersecting disciplines. I have learned over this past summer that culture and even language itself are quite interdisciplinary subjects. For this reason, the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop's and BALSSI's use of formal classes, coffee hours, activities, films, and lectures were all necessary and useful ways of internalizing Estonian. Just as important as programming, however, were my peers. Through my classmates, I found myself connected with new fields of research, with new collections of experiences and interests. Each of my Estonian classmates had vastly different interests, and we used these to contribute to each other's language-learning experiences. From one peer's fascination with linguistics, I learned so much about various grammatical systems, which only furthered my understanding of the grammar of both my native tongue and Estonian. This has truly enhanced my skills in the art of communication. My other classmate is a wonderful storyteller, spinning tales that sparked in me a new wonderment of the people of Estonia. Perhaps above all, my peers and I studied with an open-minded and understanding professor, one who is passionate and curious, asking and answering questions with genuine care for her students.

hedgehogs 2

Ain Haas, The Hedgehogs front man, demonstrating a traditional Baltic instrument

One unique aspect of the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop is the opportunity to create rich connections between individuals from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds as well as between important topics in social studies. The multiple cultural intersections that exist between most Workshop languages can be observed in the Workshop’s extracurricular program.  Because we were situated among so many other language-learners, I believe that we were afforded a very unique opportunity to explore aspects of other languages offered in the summer program and could choose to learn about other cultures and how each of our languages of study fits into the histories of the others. Indeed, language is not a stagnant object but a living, changing organism. Language is every being's means of interaction, and in today's increasingly globalized society, it is becoming imperative to make the effort to understand other peoples. Reaching out to learn a language is reaching out to make a connection. The process stirs much questioning, perhaps decreases those things we take for granted, and opens us to new experiences. These beginning strides in learning the Estonian language have done just this, and the summer programming has assisted me in securing connections for continuing this beautiful study.


Skylar Leili Lipman (Estonian level 1, 2016) is an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois pursuing dual degrees in Restoration Ecology and Bassoon Performance. Aside from her main studies (and spending quality time with her bird), she is very passionate about learning the Estonian language as a means of strengthening her ties to her heritage and as a means of connecting with family members still in Estonia. She is also engaged in intercultural work on campus and hope to continue this research far into the future, perhaps with Estonian as a driving force.


Humbling Yourself to Become Smarter: Learning more than Sorani Kurdish at SWSEEL

Anna Grace Tribble


Lunch with Kurdish class at Turkuaz

Youtube provides a vital platform for listening clips used in my Kurdish language class. Kurds, like many other people in the world, enjoy TV and produce a particularly funny day-time comedy show called Qaqa. During our second semester of instruction, we watched a clip in class entitled “Dumb.” During the clip’s fifteen minutes, we saw a son go to the grocery store for his mother. He returned numerous times to the same store, returning incorrect purchases to the shopkeeper’s dismay. His ‘dumb’ behavior came through his unsuccessful attempts to purchase the right groceries.

Haidar, our professor, jokingly warned us before the clip began that it was at an intermediate level. As we were in the sixth week of Introductory Kurdish, I was confused and admittedly nervous to be watching a clip that I did not expect to understand. However, during those fifteen minutes, I was amazed. Words that would have previously sailed in one ear and out the other were comprehended. I understood the mother’s behest to go and buy food and most of the food words being discussed. While the clip was about a person’s dumb behavior, it left my classmates and me feeling smarter and more hopeful about the growth of our Kurdish abilities.

Haidar believes in his students and their ability to learn language. Specifically, Haidar taught the eight week course in Introductory Kurdish I and II that was attended by myself and three other classmates. While he built the course to meet standard objectives, he went out of his way to include readings and vocabulary that incorporated his students’ varied interests. I am a 2nd year PhD student in anthropology, studying food security and diet among internally displaced people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. When talking about food, one of many activities involved investigating the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Minister of Trade. Not only did we review our food terminology, but we integrated a discussion about local food and food exports/imports into the lesson. For the graduate student interested in Quranic recitation, he brought religious terminology into class. For the graduate student soon to be teaching in Kurdistan, Haidar explained his method of teaching Kurdish. For the undergraduate student interested in studying linguistic anthropology and teaching Kurdish language, he taught vocabulary through a discussion of the smaller component parts from which words are built, showing the story of Kurdish vocabulary.

Essentially, Haidar adapted to each student’s learning interests and styles, combining writing on the board, lecture, conversation, clips, and role play to cement class concepts. Haidar Khezri is well-equipped to instruct us in Sorani Kurdish. He grew up bilingual in Mahabad, Irani Kurdistan, and now speaks Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and English. Haidar’s research focuses upon the comparative Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, and occasionally Turkish literature. He has also developed the first set of Sorani Kurdish teaching materials through the generous support of Indiana University at Bloomington. His textbook helpfully guided our class through the Sorani Kurdish alphabet.


Kurdish dolma at the Workshop's Food Festival

Classes and teaching materials in Sorani Kurdish are a rarity. IU is one of only a few universities in the United States to have ever offered a Kurdish course across the language’s range of dialects. This is the second year that Indiana University at Bloomington is offering Sorani Kurdish through the Center for the Study of the Middle East. Studying Sorani Kurdish is vital to my dissertation research, and I am grateful for the opportunity IU has provided. I will begin collecting data for my dissertation’s pilot study in August of 2016, which will lead to 2 years of fieldwork in the near future. Language is the linchpin that enables effective anthropological research.

IU offers Kurdish for good reason. Kurds comprise the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, and are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Politically, Kurds have already successfully created autonomous regional governments in Iraq (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and in Syria (Rojava). The Kurdish peshmerga fights against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and they are the United States’ most effective allies on the ground in Iraq.

While their political achievements are emerging into world view, the Kurds are a diverse group of people whose cultural, literary, artistic, and culinary accomplishments are no less important. Their diversity can be seen through differences in dialects. Sorani Kurdish, part of the family of dialects called Central Kurdish, falls within the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. Approximately 8-12 million people speak Sorani Kurdish in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan (Southern Kurdistan) and western Irani Kurdistan (Western Kurdistan). Including Central dialect (Sorani), Northern dialect (Kurmanji), and Southern dialect native speakers, approximately 30-40 million speakers (no Kurdistan-wide census exists) live in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Central Asia, and the diaspora.

The Summer Language Workshop also constructed spaces of learning outside of the classroom through the encouragement of language tables, a food festival, and outings with the class. Speaking Kurdish in IU’s Starbucks turned a few heads, but in this more relaxed setting, our class learned to use Kurdish more casually. The food festival held by SWSEEL enabled the Kurdish student in our class to share her cooking skills and cuisine with other language programs, though Haidar certainly got his fair share of our Kurdish dolma (a dish including ground meat or rice and spices wrapped in grape leaves). Another student in the class has studied belly dancing and Middle Eastern folkloric dances extensively, and she performed in a workshop for SWSEEL at IU. Even informal conversations about one student’s passion for weightlifting became discussions about the logistics of working out while living in Kurdistan. Outings with the class included a trip to Turkuaz, a local Turkish restaurant, and to Oliver Winery, a local winery. Discussions centered on food, so we were all happy to whip out our Kurdish food vocabulary and practice.

Throughout the past eight weeks, we did learn Sorani Kurdish, but we also learned about Kurdish culture, food, music, politics, and academics. The social network of colleagues I have now gained in Kurdish studies will enable me to keep growing in my knowledge of all things Kurdish. Though learning a new language does make you feel dumb at times, through humility, encouragement, and perseverance, our class learned that you can feel smarter in the end.


Anna Grace Tribble (Kurdish level 1, 2016) is a graduate student pursuing a dual Masters in Public Health and Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University. Her dissertation research concerns the relationship between food security, nutrition, and internal displacement in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where she has also collaborated with human rights organizations. She earned a BA in Anthropology from Wake Forest University with minors in Chemistry and Statistics.


Beyond Declensions and Conjugations: Learning Lithuanian at SWSEEL

Sammantha Holder


Lithuanian class preparing šaltibarščiai during BALSSI’s cooking demonstration. From left to right: Elizabeth Metelak, Samm Holder, Dalia Cidzikaite, and Emily Walton. Photo credit: Mathilde Lind.

On the first day of SWSEEL’s intensive summer language course, I expected eight weeks of vocabulary, verb conjugations, and case declensions. While there were plenty of grammar lessons and vocabulary quizzes, Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop provided me with opportunities to learn about and experience Lithuanian culture and history. As an anthropologist, I hold the view that language and culture are intimately intertwined. In order to understand a language, one must also learn about the culture and history of the people who speak that language. Dalia Cidzikaite, Lithuanian language instructor, shares a similar view stating, “I like the fact that while teaching the language, I get a chance to introduce my students to Lithuania’s history, culture, and heritage.”


Food prepared by Lithuanian and Estonian language classes featuring šaltibarščiai, Lithuanian rye bread, potatoes, and pickles. Photo credit: Mathilde Lind.

Dalia introduced to her students to Lithuanian history, culture, and heritage through numerous in-class activities. One of the class favorites was learning Lithuanian songs including the UNESCO intangible heritage folk singing tradition of sutartinės. From lullabies, to traditional folk songs, to contemporary rock songs, singing served as an engaging activity that aided in pronunciation and in some cases highlighted grammar lessons. As fellow Lithuanian language student Elizabeth Metelak notes, singing activities “enlivened our studies and kept us engaged…every activity was thoughtfully chosen to introduce or reinforce language skills and vocabulary.”

Several co-curricular activities enhanced my language learning experience beyond the classroom. Brown bag lectures, language movies, and demonstrations heightened my interest in Lithuanian language and culture. Although my research focuses on nineteenth century Europe, a documentary on Lithuania’s basketball team, lecture on post-Soviet Baltic security, and a music demonstration by a local band using traditional instruments culminated into a connection to Lithuanian culture beyond my academic research interests.

Among my favorite activities was a traditional Baltic cooking demonstration with the Estonian class at IU’s folklore house. We learned how to prepare traditional Lithuanian cuisine including cold beet soup (šaltibarščiai), garlic fried rye bread (kepta duona), and herring (silkė). We also enjoyed gira, a Baltic beverage made from fermented rye bread. The cooking demonstration instilled a sense of community between the Estonian and Lithuanian classes, and provided the opportunity to learn how to prepare a traditional Baltic meal through hands-on learning.


Samm Holder and Emily Walton wearing gėlių karūna and enjoying a Baltic-style brew at Joninės in Indianapolis.

The Baltic cooking demonstration even contributed to my academic research. As a bioarchaeology graduate student, my research focuses on biogeochemical approaches to studying diet and health in past populations. Understanding food preparation methods from a biocultural perspective is essential to my research.   

My favorite extracurricular activity during the Summer Language Workshop was a trip to Indianapolis for Joninės, a pagan Lithuanian holiday celebrating June’s midsummer solstice through bonfires, singing, and dancing. Before embarking on the drive to Indianapolis, we each made a flower crown (gėlių karūna) to wear during the celebration. At Indianapolis’s Latvian Community Center, we enjoyed Baltic food, music, and a bonfire at sunset. We had the opportunity to meet Lithuanian-Americans and practice our conversation skills in an informal setting.

From Dalia’s in-class activities, to SWSEEL’s co-curricular activities, to a trip to Indianapolis for Joninės celebration, my Lithuanian language learning experience extended far beyond grammar lessons. This summer’s experience is one I am sure to never forget and one I would recommend to any student interested in learning a foreign language. Lithuanian language and culture are intertwined, as are the classroom and co-curricular activities at SWSEEL.


Sammantha Holder (Lithuanian level 1, 2016) is a PhD student at the University of Georgia in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on how issues of political economy impact the synergistic relationship between diet and health in past populations, through chemical analysis of human skeletal remains. Sammantha’s current research focuses on the impacts of military service on the diet and health of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army that died in Lithuania, following the Russian Campaign of 1812. She plans to travel to Lithuania to collect samples and conduct research for her dissertation. With plans to continue conducting research in this region, Sammantha will continue learning Lithuanian.


New Homelands, Old Passions: Learning Mongolian at SWSEEL

by Susan Crate


2016 Introductory Mongolian students

When I was asked to write about my experience taking introductory Mongolian with Tserenchunt Legden through the SWSEEL program at Indiana University, I heartily accepted. I have nothing but good things to say about the course. If I were to pick the one quality that makes it such a positive experience, I would say it is Tserenchunt’s passion for teaching. It is absolutely contagious! Of course as a student, I also have to have a reason to learn the language, especially when learning it in an intensive course context. We learn a lot quickly. And I do have a strong reason for learning Mongolian. I come to the course with incentive to learn based on my research as an anthropologist, working with Viliui Sakha communities in northeastern Siberia since 1991 and, more recently, conducting some preliminary research with Mongolian herders. Just like I was motivated to learn Sakha when I realized I wanted to conduct long-term research there, I am now driven to learn Mongolian in order to conduct interviews, interpret their meaning, and understand the people’s lives and culture. I know I will not come away from a 2 month intensive course with those skills, but it certainly is a solid start.


Tserenchunt Bagsh and some former and current students at the weekly Language Table

So my passion to learn meets with Tserenchunt’s passion to teach. Her being a native speaker is also a huge advantage because she communicates the Mongolian culture to us, her students via songs, films, and food—yes she cooks for us! She is an excellent teacher, guiding us methodically through greetings, dialogues, monologues, pair-work, role-plays, and many other teaching strategies that work to keep the learning interesting and diverse.

I share the course with 6 other students who are quite a diverse group—each with their own unique reasons for learning Mongolian. A typical day starts at 8:30 with Tserenchunt entering and greeting us and asking some of the basic questions to warm us up for another 4 hours of thinking and speaking in Mongolian. Then we dive into something new—for example, she will introduce a new song (see picture 1: Tserenchunt Teaching a Traditional Mongolian Folk Song), teach us the history and contemporary traditions of the Naadam summer festival, play knucklebone bingo (see picture 2: Playing Knucklebone Bingo) or take us virtually through Mongolia’s parks and sacred sites via a powerpoint of exquisite images. Then we spend time going over some project from homework—for example, also today, one of our homework assignments was to write 5 or more sentences that describe a place and activity and the rest of the class are to guess where you are and what you are doing. Next we dive into more deeper learning—like studying one of the many cases in Mongolian—and we break into pairs to drill through questions and answers that reinforce the lesson or to create a dialogue that uses the new understandings.


Mongolian class performing at the Workshop's Talent Show

Another important part of the course is language table. We have these twice a week—going directly from the end of class at 12:30 to have lunch and converse in Mongolian until about 2pm. This is a critically important part of the course for me. I am fluent in both Russian and Sakha and learned them both by being in the countries of the language—so I could leave class and spend the rest of the day immersed in the language—hearing it, seeing it, and making many mistakes to speak it. At several of the language tables, Tserenchunt prepared Mongolian food for us. For one she made цуйван, a dish of meat, vegetables and homemade noodles (see picture of the weekly language table above). One most memorable moment was participating in the Naadam celebration. We sang some of the songs we learned and also danced a Buriat Mongol circle dance (see picture below).


Learning a traditional Buriat Mongolian dance

This has been quite a wonderful 8 weeks. I have mixed feelings about it ending—on the one hand, I am glad because it is a lot of work and I need a break. On the other hand, I have grown to have a passion for the language and the people through Tserenchunt's teaching. She has not only taught me the language (of course I have a long way to go) but also a love for the Тал Нутаг, the Homeland (see picture 5: Tserenchunt Teaching about Тал Нутаг, the Homeland). I now look forward to going to Mongolia and being able to have some conversations and improve my language abilities even more. The 2016 SWSEEL program has made that possible. Thank you!


Susan A. Crate (Mongolian level 1, 2016) is a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. An environmental and cognitive anthropologist, she has worked with indigenous communities in Siberia since 1988. Her recent research has focused on understanding local perceptions and adaptations of Viliui Sakha communities in the face of unprecedented climate change—a research agenda that has expanded to Canada, Peru, Wales, Kiribati, Mongolia and the Chesapeake Bay. She is the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and one monograph, Cows, Kin, and Globalization: An Ethnography of Sustainability (AltaMira Press 2006), and she is coeditor of Anthropology and Climate Change: From Encounters to Actions (Left Coast Press, Inc. 2009), with its second volume, Anthropology and Climate Change: From Actions to Transformations just released in early 2016. She also served on the American Anthropology Association’s Task Force on Climate Change.


Expanding Horizons: a Summer Introduction to Persian

by Matthew Carter


Introductory Persian students studying together

Persian is a language with both deep roots and a significant place in the modern world: it has been the vehicle for one of the world’s oldest and most influential civilizations, a language of emperors, poets, philosophers and scholars. Persian once served as the lingua franca and the prestige language for an area stretching from Iraq to China and from Russia to India, and in the modern era it continues on as the language of over 100 million people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and throughout the world.

Owing to this complex identity, the Persian language attracts students of history, political science, religion, anthropology, literature, linguistics and other fields, as well as those pursuing careers in diplomacy or the military. This past summer, I entered the Summer Language Workshop alongside a group of students representing all of the aforementioned disciplines, brought together by a common interest in gaining as much of a foothold as possible into this beautiful language.

We were very fortunate to be led in this task by Narges Nematollahi. A native of Esfahan, Ms. Nematollahi is currently pursuing a dual Ph.D. in Linguistics and Central Eurasian Studies here at Indiana University. Her past almae matres include the University of Tehran and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where she studied ancient Iranian languages and religion. Narges was a wonderful instructor, striking a great balance between being patient with us and pushing us to do our best work.


Introductory Persian instructor Narges Nematollahi giving a traditional Persian cooking demonstration

As with all courses in the Summer Language Workshop, the Persian program offers an intensive introduction into the language, beginning from the script and the most basic phrases and working up to a basic conversational level. This is accomplished through daily four-hour classes, biweekly listening activities and conversation groups, various cultural events, and of course a lot of work outside of the classroom. The program helped us to build a solid foundation in the language – we could fluidly and confidently use the grammar and vocabulary which we had studied over the summer – something which is essential to progressing further in the language.

Of course, no introduction to Persian would be complete without delving into the society, culture and history of Iran, a place which for many of us in the West is still deeply mysterious and foreign. Woven into the language lessons were discussions about daily life in Iran and about ta’arof, the complex system of politeness and hospitality for which Persians are famous. We talked about the traditions surrounding Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, and about some of the unique customs of Zoroastrians. We memorized and recited pieces of classical Persian poetry, and gave presentations on the lives of their authors. As a class, we attended a showing of renowned Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s beautiful and heart wrenching film Fireworks Wednesday. Finally, we had the opportunity to experience Persian cuisine on multiple occasions: we took a class trip to Samira, a local Afghan restaurant, many of us attended the workshop’s food fest, and we attended a cooking demonstration which Narges herself gave.


Introductory Persian students tasting traditional Persian dishes

As could only be expected, the Persian Summer Language Program at IU offered myself and other students a thorough and intensive introduction to the language and culture of the Persian-speaking world, in all of its depth and complexity. It provided a solid foundation for continuing study in the wide variety of fields related to the Persian language and the cultures in which it is spoken. I would recommend the program to anyone interested in the Persian language or Iranian civilization, or to anyone who is simply interested in expanding his or her skillset and horizons.


Matthew Carter (Persian level 1, 2016, Russian level 6, 2012) is a senior at Indiana University Bloomington, studying Linguistics and Slavic and Eastern European Languages, with a minor in Central Eurasian Studies. In the future, he hopes to continue in the field of linguistics, focusing on Slavic, Iranian, and the indigenous languages of the Caucasus. He also has spent a year teaching English as a Second Language in Ufa, Russia.


Samba for Breakfast: a Brazilian Summer in Bloomington

by Justin Hill

la casa

Introductory Portuguese class enjoying treats prepared at a cooking demonstration at La Casa

When I enrolled in SWSEEL, I anticipated spending four hours a day during the summer drilling grammar lessons into my head. Instead, for two months I was welcomed into the local Brazilian community to learn the language and culture. Vania Castro, a native Brazilian living in Bloomington for many years with her family, taught us the basic grammar and vocabulary required to communicate in Portuguese. Outside of the classroom, I learned to appreciate the Brazilian culture through weekly cooking lessons, capoeira and samba workshops, and a variety of other events hosted by Vania’s family and friends. Given that SWSEEL is designed to be an immersive language program, I cannot imagine a more Brazilian summer than if I were actually in Rio de Janeiro. And although I was learning about Brazil in Bloomington over the summer, SWSEEL gave me the skills needed to successfully function in Brazil (or Portugal, or Mozambique… Portuguese is global!).


Vania Castro

Learning a new language requires repetitive practice of grammar and vocabulary exercises, even though these exercises might not be the most interesting. My favorite part of SWSEEL was the amount of one-on-one attention available to all students; for the majority of the summer, I was one of four students learning from Vania. The first two hours of every class consisted of various writing, reading and speaking activities designed to teach new information. After a ten-minute break usually spent getting a café from Wells Library, we returned to the classroom to work in groups on an activity designed to help us practice general skills. Often, the room was filled with bossa nova or samba music we had been listening to the night before.

In the mornings every day of the summer, we learned to talk the talk in Portuguese; in the afternoon, we walked the walk. One week we participated in a two-hour capoeira lesson that left us all physically exhausted but mentally refreshed. Although none of us could perform the moves perfectly, capoeira encourages the participants to step outside of their comfort zones and into the middle of the circle in a form of self-expression through a combination of song, dance, and martial arts.


Demonstrating how to make traditional Brazilian cheese bread

Listening to music was a major component of the Portuguese SWSEEL. Popular bossa nova and samba songs helped me to engage with the culture from a different perspective, and to hear the words I was learning in the classroom from another voice. To complement our audio learning, Vania organized a samba dance lesson to help us learn some basic steps. I’ve never been much of a dancer, and while I don’t think the workshop dramatically improved my technique, I loved practicing the steps in my kitchen every morning while listening to bossa nova and making eggs.

I loved the capoeira and samba classes, but my favorite part of the SWSEEL workshop was the weekly cooking lessons. Every Wednesday, Vania led our class through a Brazilian cooking demonstration in making pao de queijo, brigadeiro’s, quindim, and a couple other small desserts. Admittedly, we had varying levels of success with some dishes, but we were able to capture the flavor of Brazil. Again, the immersive aspect of SWSEEL is designed to bring the language and culture into every aspect of daily life while living away from the target country. By learning to make the Brazilian food, we learned more about popular restaurants and cooking styles. Plus, there is no better way to practice comida vocabulary than to have the actual food as an incentive!


Portuguese students learning to practice Capoeira

Hearing sounds and tasting the flavors of Brazil would normally be as much as one could reasonably expect from a language program while living thousands of miles north from the target country. But again, Vania exceeded any reasonable expectations. She introduced us to dozens of her Brazilian family and friends throughout the program, all whom were extremely excited to help us practice our conversational Portuguese. We heard live Brazilian music performed by Vania’s sister, and attended a party at the finale of the summer for the entire Bloomington Brazilian community. By participating in SWSEEL, I was wholly immersed in the local Portuguese-speaking population and feel confident to travel to a Portuguese-speaking country equipped with adequate skills to communicate. Beyond the learning, I met students deeply engaged in the language programs at IU and made many new friends. The summer 2016 SWSEEL program will definitely rank highly on my list of favorite classes and most memorable experiences of my time in Bloomington.


Justin Hill (Portuguese level 1, 2016) graduated from Indiana University in May 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Finance through the Kelley School of Business. During his time at IU, he cherished his time studying abroad in Hong Kong and participating in various international business organizations on campus. He currently works for PwC in San Francisco, where he is actively exploring the samba community to further his Portuguese skills


Me Talk Pretty One Day

by Matthew Newton


Russian level 8 students performing at the Workshop's Talent Show

After college, I was lucky to spend a considerable amount of time in Moscow, working as a teacher of English. On the weekends I’d hang out with my Russian coworkers and colleagues, which not only lead to life-long friendships, but also bolstered my Russian with a healthy amount of colloquialisms, slang, and phrases that were missing from my textbooks. On the other hand, my vocabulary and grammar were quite limited. Topics beyond everyday life, food and drink preferences, and life experiences were a linguistic dead-end for me. I was a lexical infant.

Whether I was explaining directions using the agonizing verbs of motion, toasting to newfound friendship, or even trying to flirt, I made mistakes. No, I’m not talking about lapses of judgment, although those were part and parcel to my time abroad; this is about language acquisition.

The funny thing is, over the past eight weeks of SWSEEL’s Russian program, I’ve become well aware of the errors I’ve made when trying to piece together even basic constructions. But I’ve learned that they don’t matter one bit. Becoming aware of one’s own mistakes is a sign of establishing proficiency. When you have a sense that something is linguistically “off” in a thought you’re expressing or in a sentence you’re writing, a sort of teachable moment arises. You can make a note of it and later ask your teacher whether there’s a better way to say it, and then learn from it.


Russian instructor at the NASA Johnson Space Center Dr. Tony Vanchu meeting with Russian students after his presentation “Принято: Russian Language Training at the NASA Johnson Space Center Or, How I Came to Love the ФГБ”

In a nutshell, I really wish I had done SWSEEL beforehand.

Thanks to our amazing and talented teacher, Irina Grigorevna, and a well-chosen textbook, we reviewed essential grammar and absorbed a wide variety of vocabulary in order to discuss topics ranging from ecology, education, politics, and more. Soon, I’ll be starting a master’s in International Studies with a focus on Eurasia at the University of Washington. I feel much more prepared than ever before to do research and examine Russian-language sources.

During the exhausting eight weeks of SWSEEL, we had many opportunities to give presentations and participate in discussions using the target language. I analyzed the motives of a film character who writes his wife’s children out of his will. I explained the beef industry’s connection to global warming, and advocated for composting as a way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. I compared the ways through which high school students in the US and Russia enter university. Did I mention that I did this all in Russian?

If I’m fortunate enough to return to Russia, I will still make mistakes. But I will be far more confident – not just in my ability to use complex structures and to discuss more abstract ideas, but to simply understand more. One thing that helped was the listening classes we had. Listening to the Russian news is notoriously difficult due to the speed at which its presenters speak. But by first introducing the topic, presenting collocations found in the broadcast, and replaying it multiple times alongside the transcription, Mark Trotter helped us better understand segments of modern Russian TV.


Workshop students meeting with FBI Special Agent Wendy Williams

As a former ESL teacher trained in both the communicative and lexical approaches to language learning, I can say with certainty that these classes were developed with modern methodology in mind.

I’m also greatly thankful for phonetics training, under the guidance of Slavic linguist Ala Simonchyk. We deconstructed each and every Russian phoneme and trained our listening and skills in intonation. In retrospect, I would have appreciated more time working in the language lab with Ala. It baffles me that in my college Russian classes, we didn’t receive similar phonetic training, which is so crucial in order to be understood by native speakers.

Another aspect I appreciated was the extracurricular programming available. Some of the events that stood out in particular were a film screening of “This is Gay Propaganda: LGBT Rights and the War in Ukraine” and a Q&A with the director, a presentation about Russian language training at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and a lecture by Dr. Sarah Phillips on the social and human costs of the Ukrainian conflict. Additionally, those interested in working for the government may enjoy the opportunities to meet with representatives of the State Department, the FBI, and the CIA.

So, potential SWSEEL participants, you can expect to be immersed in your target language for at least four hours a day. You’ll do quite a bit of writing, grammar exercises, and you’ll watch a film in the target language each week. You’ll participate in conversation hours, or at least endure them. If this doesn’t sound appealing, then stay home; if your heart’s not in it, perhaps this isn’t for you. However, if you’re ready to put in the work and aren’t afraid of making mistakes, your language skills, fluency, and vocabulary will definitely improve.

I’d like to extend my thanks to my classmates, Irina Gregorovna Dolgayova, Ala Simonchyk, Veronika Vasilevna Trotter, Mark Trotter, Maria Shardakova, and Olga Bueva for helping make my eight weeks in Bloomington productive, valuable, and memorable.


Matthew Newton (Russian level 8, 2016), originally from Los Angeles, is a 2012 graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Afterwards he spent two years working as an English teacher in Moscow. He is now pursuing a Master's in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies with a focus on International Relations and Political Science at the University of Washington. He enjoys cooking, the outdoors, and cats.


Turkish Songs All Summer Long

by Maleesa Brenchley


Last language table at Anatolia cafe

I walked into the Global and International Studies building on the Indiana University campus the first day of the Summer Language Workshop (SLW), excited but nervous since it had been two years since I had really spoken any Turkish. I stopped at the door of my classroom, took a deep breath, gave myself a pep talk and said “Hadi gidelim.” (Come on, let’s go). Once I stepped into the room, I knew I had no reason to be worried. Six smiling faces offering friendly merhabas (hellos) greeted my ears accompanied by Turkish pop music playing in the background. The teacher introduced herself as Zeynep Hoca (Teacher Zeynep), flashing her sweet, enthusiastic smile as we introduced ourselves and our reasons for studying Turkish. Some, like me, had spent time in Turkey before, others were part of ROTC and Project GO , while others were part of IU’s Turkish Flagship program. While only two of the six of us were not full-time IU students, we all bonded quickly over our love for the Turkish language and culture. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling as I was swept back into the joy of hearing and speaking Turkish once again. From the first few minutes of class, I knew the next two months would be full of fun and excitement as we all continued our venture of studying Turkish.


Intermediate Turkish students at the Turkish Drumming Workshop

Intensive language programs consist of hours of class each day, having the potential to become long and tedious simply due to the fatiguing task of trying to function in a new language. With the SLW being my second intensive program for Turkish, I expected some days to drag on with monotony. I was pleasantly surprised to find the days passed quickly due to the variety of activities thoughtfully planned by our ever positive, encouraging, and upbeat teacher, Zeynep Elbasan, an associate instructor of Turkish completing her doctorate in Central Eurasian Studies at IU. She brightened the days with her friendly and energetic personality, between class periods playing her favorite popular and traditional Turkish songs that kept us energized and tapping our toes through the next class. On those days when the dreary, stormy Indiana summer weather outside made us all a little less energetic (and distracted) than usual, she was keenly aware of our moods and smoothly transitioned the class to discussing the weather, reviewing vocabulary through natural conversation, and reenergizing our brains to return to the lesson at hand.



An average day in class started with talking about what we had done yesterday or plans we had for after class and segued into the first lesson. Each day we interacted with the language through listening, reading, speaking, or a new grammar concept. Some lessons focused on a news article we had read the night before, while others focused on specific practical, every-day conversational topics, such as shopping with our printed Turkish lira or reserving hotel rooms and tours for our travels. In the midst of intense, focused language learning, laughter commonly filled the room as we acted out role-plays, striving to communicate using the new skills we were gaining.

One of our favorite activities was listening to popular Turkish songs and singing them together after translating and discussing the lyrics. Our teacher may have come to regret teaching us “Göreceksin Kendini” by 1970s Turkish pop star Nilüfer as it immediately became a class favorite which we requested to sing every day thereafter. By far one of the most fun and rewarding parts of the class was our final group video projects. Throughout the two months of class, the six of us had become great friends, united by our love for Turkish and also our appreciation of our teacher who poured so much time and energy into making sure we were learning and enjoying the process. The videos allowed us to use the language we had learned in creative ways, pulling on funny stories and inside jokes from the class, and showing Zeynep Hoca how much we had learned and how thankful we were for her patient teaching.


Intermediate Turkish class having kahvaltı (breakfast) at Zeynep Hoca's house

Outside of class time, the program provided a plethora of cultural activities that educated us about Turkish lifestyle and customs. We participated in a traditional Turkish Ebru art class, a Turkish drum and dance class, as well as a tavla (backgammon) lesson. As my classmate Jordi Saunders said, “[These classes] connected us with the culture and made it more than just a language class.” These activities also gave us the chance to interact and practice our Turkish with the eleven students in the Introductory Turkish class. A few times we also joined the Introductory class for a lesson, taught by their talented linguist and teacher Niko Kontovas, who teaches at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul during the academic year. Niko educated us on Turkish slang and colloquials, opening our eyes to many of the cultural nuances found in the Turkish language. Studying Turkish during an attempted coup and political unrest in Turkey also gave us opportunity to learn more about the country’s political system through various discussions with our teachers as well as visiting Turkish scholars.

For any students who were interested, Zeynep Hoca connected us with Turks in the area to meet with weekly as conversation partners. The hospitality and warm-heartedness of my language partner and his family as well as Zeynep Hoca and her family made it an all-around phenomenal experience. They made us feel like family as they opened up their homes to share traditional Turkish meals, like kahvaltı (breakfast), and met with us outside of class for lunch or dinner throughout the week. My previous experience in Turkey and relationship with Turks is what motivated me to further my language study, and the Turks I met this summer through the SLW only intensified my desire to continue studying the language with the hopes of one day living and working in Turkey. Thanks to the hard work and careful planning of Zeynep, Niko, and the SLW team, not only did my Turkish language skills develop this summer but also my knowledge and love of the country’s culture and people.


Maleesa Brenchley (Turkish level 2, 2016) is a graduate student at Mississippi College pursuing a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy. Although born in Washington state, her love of languages and cultures comes from her upbringing in Skopje, Macedonia and her globetrotting childhood. An alumna of the 2014 Critical Language Scholarship Program for Turkish, she was happy to continue her language study at IU's Summer Language Workshop. She hopes to combine her passions of music, teaching, and Turkish by one day teaching in Turkey.


Kyiv in the Midwest

by Emily Lipira and Curtis Richardson


Last Introductory Ukrainian Language Table

We have both been privileged to participate in Indiana University’s SWSEEL program for multiple summers, first for the Russian language and most recently for Ukrainian in 2016. SWSEEL is much more than an eight-week language program; it offers its students opportunities in the American Midwest to genuine exposure to new cultures, such as cuisine, films, music, and a variety of guest speakers. This program then was not simply limited to learning verb conjugations and declension patterns, but a fulfilling, enriching experience, replete with diverse activities and class camaraderie.

We both had decided, based on recent events in Ukraine and our profound interests in Eurasia, to learn Ukrainian. We are Dr. Curtis Richardson, a scholar of the former Soviet space whose research focuses on nationalism, and Emily Lipira, a first-year Ph.D. student in Russian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There are few programs in the US that offer Ukrainian and our previous experiences at SWSEEL convinced us that it was the best choice for our goals. This experience once again exceeded our expectations.


Students mastering the art of pisanki

From the first day in our Ukrainian class, we could see that the class was going to be both a wonderful learning experience and full of fun. Our instructor, a full-time Indiana University instructor and an experienced SWSEEL teacher, Dr. Svitlana Melnyk, brought a fantastic sense of humor, patience, and a cheerful attitude into the class each day. Her infectious laughter made the early mornings and the four hours of grammar much brighter. We actually looked forward to it each day. Our classmates were both serious in their interest but humorous and together, we formed a little Ukrainian commune or little Kyiv. We had the amazing opportunity to attend a Ukrainian table at a local favorite and quaint restaurant called The Runcible Spoon every Friday evening with local Ukrainian speakers to discuss everything from life in Ukraine to Bloomington to anything else we wanted to discuss. Ukrainian in Bloomington became inseparable from those summer evenings.



SWSEEL is an all-encompassing program, incorporating a variety of opportunities to engage culture, history, and current affairs. We benefitted from numerous speakers, films, musical performances, and not limited to Ukraine and Ukrainian but including many countries and their cultures. We saw the film, This is Gay Propaganda: LGBT Rights and the War in Ukraine, and the director of the film spoke both before and after the screening. The film illustrated the complexities of the war and how it touches different people’s lives, not just those highlighted in the news.


Shaun Williams and Ukrainian instructor Svitlana Melnyk singing a traditional Ukrainian song at lecture on Ukrainian material culture

We also were immersed in fun, creative activities, for example, a pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs) workshop. Each person created their own Easter egg with elaborate colors and designs. In addition, we had the good fortune of a class visit to the remarkable Indiana University Art Museum where we saw numerous pieces of art, including a sketch from the renowned Kazimir Malevich. Our instructor prepared an authentic Ukrainian dish for us, a delicious salad called vinehret made of beets, carrots, potatoes, pickles, and other interesting ingredients. These activities, the grammar classes, the Ukrainian table, our chudova (fantastic) instructor, and so much more represent what SWSEEL is.

We are living in an era in which the need for specialists in area studies is growing and funding is limited. For more than sixty-five years, SWSEEL has played and continues to play an integral role in the development of such specialists. Not only has SWSEEL contributed to our scholarship, but its influence has reached our students through the creation of a Russian-language program and in several publications.


Emily Lipira (Ukrainian level 1, 2016) is a first-year Ph.D. student in Russian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the intersection of culture and revolutionary movements in pre-revolutionary Russia, especially on the Russian Cubo-Futurists. She has studied Russian language three times at SWSEEL (2011, 2013, and 2014) and Ukrainian this past summer in 2016.


Dr. Curtis Richardson (Ukrainian level 1, 2016) is a world history faculty course mentor at Western Governors University. He has published a number of articles and reference collections in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies. Dr. Richardson studied Russian at SWSEEL in 2013 and Ukrainian in 2016.



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The IU Summer Language Workshop

Ariann Stern-Gottschalk, Ph.D.

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