My SWSEEL Memoir
by Robert Fradkin
When I first started IU graduate school by coming to SWSEEL 1974, Russian was the main feature at all levels, and we were all expected to speak only Russian in the dorm. One class of a second Slavic language was also offered. It is heartening and amazing to see how SWSEEL has burgeoned into a multilingual, multi-continental enterprise including East and West Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and East Asia! As an inveterate kid-in-the-language-candy-shop, I wish I had a year of summers to devote to some of them. The Polyglot was good enough to ask me to reflect on how my own SWSEEL experience has affected my life and career. OK: pojexali!
I arrived that first summer in Bloomington brandishing a BA in Russian from Boston University and two years in Israel. I got my introduction to Slavic linguistics from Steven Molinksy at BU, who was developing the Lipson method and the single-stem verb system for the classroom. While other Russian majors were going on CIEE for their junior year, I chose Jerusalem for that 1971-2 year. Among other life-changing experiences, I acquired respectable Hebrew, a good introduction to Arabic and a healthy dose of Russian practice with dozens of recent Soviet immigrants. I took my first OCS class at Hebrew University with the late Moshe Altbauer (whose dictum was that all good Slavicists should know Greek, more about which below). At the end of that year I detoured to Copenhagen to join a Danish group going to then-Leningrad for a month-long Russian summer course. Graduating BU in 1973, I was accepted to IU but deferred that to return to Israel for a gap year to try to gain some work experience and language practice before plunging into Slavic linguistics grad school. Sad to say, the Yom Kippur War torpedoed my attempt to find work, but it did give my Russian and Hebrew a good boost.
Fresh from those eastern experiences I packed everything I owned into a car and a rooftop carrier, drove farther west from the Massachusetts than I had ever driven, and took up SWSEEL residence in the Wilkie dorm. That workshop was a crossroads of incredibly motivated and talented students from all over and such Slavistic luminaries as Vadim Liapunov, Stephen Soudakoff, the newly-arrived Dodona Kiziria, the late Charles Townsend, and the late Irene Raisler. It was inspiring and exhilarating to speak-eat-drink-exercise-romance only in Russian (yes, including a long-term relationship with a classmate). The classes were challenging: previously undreamed-of subtle aspects of Russian aspect bubbled to the surface; vocabulary nuances plumbed new depths in my russistic repertoire. The weekly lectures and films were eye/ear-opening in themselves, made even more captivating by the insightful commentaries of various faculty members and guest lecturers.
I felt privileged in those first few summers to participate in the last few theatrical productions of Alexander Martyanov and gradually came to learn of the distinguished history of the IU connection to the Air Force Language Program, all the Russian emigrés it attracted and the ways IU benefited from their work. (See Gary Wiggins’s internet article http://www.indiana.edu/~cheminfo/gw/Russians_full_final_3_14_2010.htm and the plaque in the IU Slavic Department dedicated to their efforts.) A long-time guitarist and folk singer (an early spark to my Slavic passions was Theodore Bikel's records of Russian folk songs), I also helped Larry Richter and David Lowe lead the weekly spevki, crooning such gems as Vecheer na rejde, Vo kuznitse—and dare I neglect Podmoskovnye vechera? Liapunov made some memorable appearances at these sessions with his booming baritone and thrilling repertoire of old folk songs and Okudzhava, whom the west was still just discovering. The following summer, SWSEEL saw fit to promote me to RA in the dorm, and I simultaneously took the certificate-level Russian class along with intensive Serbo-Croatian (now BCS).
During the academic year I had a TAship in Russian and got invaluable teacher training from Dorothy Soudakoff, Galina McLaws, Jerzy Kolodziej, the late Dan Armstrong and others. My Jakobsonian-Van Schooneveldian linguistic background helped shape my approach to languages and teaching. The next several summers I worked in the SWSEEL language lab and later taught a section of 1st and 2nd year Russian. In my (many) graduate school years I spent (too?) many hours in the intellectually charged atmosphere of the Ballantine 5th floor coffee room, where high-spirited students and professors from several departments intersected for spontaneous, multilingual (and usually hilarious and outrageously bawdy) banter, easily as exciting and valuable a course on linguistics, literature and life, as could appear on any academic transcript.
In addition to my Slavic linguistics major I fashioned my Israel background into a minor in Semitic linguistics. (A year of Uzbek also peaked the interest of the CIA, topic for another time). So, when I had exhausted all my assistantships in the Slavic department, the Near East department gave me the chance to teach Hebrew. Ultimately, I defended my dissertation on Russian and Arabic tense-aspect-mood under C. H. Van Schooneveld, Rod Sangster, Ron Feldstein and Salman Al-Ani and embarked on a career alternating between Russian and Hebrew jobs at University of Washington, Brown, Old Dominion, Duke and University of Maryland.
SWSEEL and world events conspired in my personal life as well. I received an IREX grant to work on my doctoral thesis at MGU in 1980-81. Those groups usually spent the entire June-to-June year there, but that summer the US boycotted the Moscow summer Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Our group, then, left only in September, which meant I spent that summer in Bloomington and taught another round of SWSEEL. Once in Moscow, I was a dutiful IREXer, going regularly to the Leninka (national library) to research my dissertation topic. In retrospect taking actual MGU classes would have been far more beneficial but that was not so easy in those austere Brezhnev years. After hours, I made friends with many Soviet refuseniks, including some devoted Hebrew teachers. (I dared to teach them some Hebrew and also sang a surreptitious house concert or two of Israeli songs.)
Back in the MGU dorm, all the kap-studenty (from capitalist countries) were housed in Zona V, and Russian was the common language of these Americans, French, West Germans and Japanese. In mid winter one Belgian arrived and—very long story very short—we recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. My IREX year ended in June 1981, while her Belgian grant lasted into the following winter. The SWSEEL connection in that relationship is that her American neighbor from a SUNY group that fall in Zona V had been in that 1980 summer session, which, all other things being equal (ceteris paribus in Jakobson’s familiar formulation), I would not have been at. This student and I were only acquaintances, but when she showed her Belgian neighbor some pictures of her Bloomington experience, the former was surprised to see me there, and our two families have been best friends these past several decades. Many of my friendships and professional associations have their roots directly or indirectly in those sultry Bloomington summers with their dramatic downpours, crashing thunderstorms and swimming hole quarries.
As it turned out, my wife-to-be already had perfect command of English (we kept to our self-imposed Russian-only rule until she came to the US) and was well positioned for a career in TESL (teaching English as a second language). From our annual visits to her large family in Antwerp I acquired a fair command of Dutch/Flemish, which gave me an additional special bond with my dissertation advisor, Prof. Van Schooneveld. (When the University of Leiden mounted an exhibition in 2001 on Van Schooneveld’s work with Mouton Press, he asked us to do the English translation of J. P. Hinrich’s book accompanying the event.)
My first real job as instructor of Hebrew took me even farther west to University of Washington, Seattle. Until then I had no idea how big this country really was! An asssistant professorship in Hebrew at Brown took me back to my native New England. In 1990 I was hired to direct the Russian program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and all went well—until the Soviet Union ended a couple of years later. Russian enrollments shrank all over the country, and a budget cut forced the university to close my small program. Duke University offered me a visiting year in Russian, and then miraculously a Hebrew job opened at University of Maryland. All the while I was an energetic promoter of enhancing language awareness in students and the general public, as my two books suggest: Stalking the Wild Verb Phrase: English Grammar for English Speakers Learning Other Languages (University Press of America, 1991) and the “linguistics-in-the-service-of-classical-music” book, The Well-Tempered Announcer: A Pronunciation Guide to Classical Music (IUP, 1996), introducing nonlinguists to the phonetic and orthographic patterns of most of the languages of Europe for the purpose of pronouncing names with “reasonable” accuracy. Those alphabetic investigations and a desire to find common ground for students of European and Middle Eastern languages led me to create a linguistics-history-culture-politics course in “History of the Alphabets.”
Flashing back to the Greek seed that Prof. Altbauer planted in OCS class in Jerusalem 30 years earlier, I finally carved a spot in my teaching schedule, while at Maryland, to sit in on a Greek class. Just at that time, however, the university and I were… uh… how shall I say… reconsidering our future together, and an odd conversation with an unlikely colleague led me to think in the direction of Latin. With regret I put Greek back on the back burner and took my first Latin class. Two years later I was ready to part ways with academia and move to teaching high school Latin in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. These were some of the most rewarding years of my career. That field’s traditional presentation of Latin grammar could not have imagined a “one-stem system” for Latin conjugation in the style of Jakobson-Townsend-Molinsky, but I developed one and published it in the recent Festschrift for Ron Feldstein. Retiring from full-time teaching in 2013, I taught ESL as an adjunct in my wife’s department in Prince George’s Community College. This year I have come full circle, "unretiring" to return to University of Maryland for a sabbatical replacement in the Russian department. Meanwhile, my wife and I spend summers camping and hiking all over the US. When we both really retire I hope to come back to SWSEEL for yet another intensive dose of Bloomingtonshchina—and I hope there is no age limit on students!
Robert Fradkin started his graduate education at Indiana University in SWSEEL 1974, arriving with a BA in Russian from Boston University and two years in Israel. He received a Master's degree in Slavic Languages in 1976 and a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics in 1985. He has held various teaching position at Old Dominion University, University of Washington, Brown University, George Washington University, Duke University, and others teaching courses in Russian, Latin, Modern and Biblical Hebrew, Old Church Slavonic and a wide range of Linguistics courses. In 1991 he published Stalking the Wild Verb Phrase: English Grammar for English Speakers Learning Other Languages (University Press of America). Coupling languages with his love of classical music he produced The Well-Tempered Announcer: A Pronunciation Guide to Classical Music (IUP, 1996), introducing non-linguists to the phonetic and orthographic patterns of most of the languages of Europe for the purpose of pronouncing them with “reasonable” accuracy.
It was in the Cards: From SWSEEL to Flagship
by Caroline Stokes
A few weeks ago on a whim, I decided to open up the flashcard program on my phone that I’d used often to review new Turkish vocabulary. While I scrolled through all the decks I’ve made over the years, I had to stop to laugh out loud when I reached the cards from summer 2013, the summer I attended SWSEEL for Intermediate Turkish. On the screen were four sets of flashcards, each with 300 cards. This breaks down to roughly 150 new Turkish words to study each week of the two-month program.
But what seems like insanity now was a habit during my time at SWSEEL: every day after class I would come home, make flashcards out of the words I had learned that day, and review them in between other homework assignments for the next day. Though I went to bed every night with some rather obscure words floating around my mind (quicksand, missile, and stampede are just a few of the words that somehow came up during our classes), I am thankful for every strange dream this may have caused. Looking back on my Turkish studies, it is clear to me that it was my time at SWSEEL that laid much of the foundation for success with the language that would later carry me through a year in Turkey.
I am especially grateful to my Turkish instructor Sibel Arıoğul, who I had for SWSEEL and several additional semesters. Sibel always taught us to think beyond the fill-in-the-blanks exercises in our workbooks and learn the structures that would typically be considered above our level. Though there was a healthy dose of grammar, dialogues and vocabulary in her classes, we also discussed Turkish news articles, watched and laughed about ridiculous Turkish game shows, and debated social issues. And when stress about spending an entire year in Turkey with the Flagship set in, Sibel was the one who reminded me of how far I had come with my Turkish and motivated me to sign the paperwork to go.
I felt very fortunate to have studied Turkish at IU when my junior year in Turkey began. I spent a total of 11 months abroad, first in Bursa with the Critical Languages Scholarship, and then in Ankara through IU’s own Turkish Flagship Program. Thanks to my time at IU, I felt prepared for the intense schedules of both programs—I was in Turkish class for at least four hours a day, with several conversation partner meetings and extra activities weekly, and while in Ankara I also took classes in Turkish from Ankara University and interned at the university’s Foreign Relations Office. I also felt much more “at home” in Turkey than I expected I would. Although I’m sure I made ample mistakes, by the time I left IU my Turkish had progressed to the point where there were few things I felt I could not express. I also was familiar with Turkish culture due to the emphasis my IU instructors gave to this subject.
The proficiency in Turkish I had already developed allowed me to connect with a diverse set of individuals in Bursa, Ankara, and the cities I visited in later travels. Though I had many memorable experiences, a few stand out in my mind: Giggling with my host mother in the kitchen as we tried to teach each other the food of Turkey and America (lentil köfte and cinnamon rolls, respectively); at an outdoor restaurant in Bursa during Ramadan, hearing the evening call to prayer and watching everyone break their fast at the same time; drinking tea with my classmates and teachers while chatting about everything under the sun; trying out my best Turkish dancing skills and deflecting the subsequent jokes from my host family and friends. Had I not already gained considerable knowledge of Turkish language and culture before leaving for the year, I might have missed out on these moments and others that allowed me to grow my abilities and understanding of Turkey even more.
I’m now back at IU for my senior year, but my thoughts wander to Turkey often (and I’m still in the habit of drinking copious cups of tea). I’ve been pleased to be able to maintain my connection to Turkey and Turkish through my job with the Turkish Flagship Center as Outreach and Recruitment Assistant. It’s always a joy to share Turkish culture in the Bloomington community and get new students interested in joining the program. Additionally, I am now writing my senior thesis for International Studies on the topic of sex education in Turkey, and have been using Turkish as one of my research languages. It’s immensely satisfying to know that my Turkish has progressed to this point, and I hope to continue using it in my future studies and career. Though the 1200 flashcards I made for SWSEEL seemed like so many at the time, as it turns out, they would be just the start of my deep exploration of Turkish and Turkey. I feel very fortunate to have gotten a start with Turkish at IU that has carried me so far.
Caroline Stokes is a senior at Indiana University majoring in Central Eurasian Studies and International Studies with a concentration in Global Health and the Environment. She has also been studying Turkish for four years through the Turkish Flagship Program and spent the 2014-15 Academic Year in Turkey. Upon graduating in May, Caroline hopes to use her Turkish skills in a career in global health.
Here and Back Again
by Kayleigh Fischietto
When I emerged from the stairwell of Ballantine Hall before my first class, I confess that I hadn't the slightest notion of what awaited me. Two years of university level language learning was the sum of my experience with Russian yet, here I was, surrounded by a mixture of students anticipating the start of graduate programs in the fall and others already in the midst of MA or doctoral coursework. It was immediately obvious that I was the youngest of the lot, singled out to miss the class's weekly excursions to E Kirkwood, and still uncertain of specifics of my staunchly held plan to continue in academia.
My expectations for SWSEEL had been relatively narrow, consisting of language goals and little more, but the presence of such a diverse group of passionate students prompted me to question just what I expected to gain from a graduate program. This seemed the inevitable next step but why?
In the eight weeks to follow, I received answers to the why of graduate school from my classmates studying history, social science, linguistics, international law and economics on those afternoons when we found ourselves taking lunch in Ballantine, unwilling to return to our dorms in the unremitting heat. I can still recall listening while a fellow classmate, a doctoral student of history, animatedly explained his efforts to reframe questions regarding Russian governance traditionally posed in the context of periphery versus center. The takeaway of lunchtime discussions was that almost everyone had a project of personal interest which vivified their graduate study.
It would be years before the chance introduction to the 20th century Russian poet who would single-handedly kindle my desire to research and write, but it was thanks to the mentorship of my classmates at SWSEEL that I realized the importance of discovering such a reason if one wishes to pursue a graduate degree. A general albeit strong interest in Russian language and literature would be insufficient to inspire a master's thesis much less a dissertation. I began to foster the hope that graduate studies would resemble the dynamic which developed within our class: a meeting of individuals impassioned by their interests who were apt to make connections across disciplines which enriched our understanding of Russia and its neighbors.
When discussing the appreciation for interdisciplinarity as a key component of graduate studies which I developed that summer, I would be remiss were I to ignore the contributions of my roommates who studied Hungarian and Yiddish. The three of us spent our fair share of Friday nights at Mother Bear's discussing our academic paths and one oft noted point was the importance of following intellectual curiosity to its end even when this entailed nudging one's way into another discipline. They impressed upon me that funding will not always bridge the gap between one's primary discipline and another tangential discipline in which case a self-driven commitment to research is imperative.
When the eight weeks of intensive language training drew to a close, I could point not only to appreciable improvements in my Russian language abilities but to a newly developed sense of purpose related to my desire to pursue a graduate degree. SWSEEL brought me into contact with a flash-forged community of individuals who were genuinely passionate about their research interests, curious to test the boundaries that have traditionally delineated disciplines. With these principles in mind, I assembled my application to IU Bloomington with particular care, convinced that this was an institution that valued diverse research interests and actively promoted interdisciplinarity. Of all the universities which I considered, only IU offered a dual MA (Russian and East European Studies)/MLS program, one of many offered. and in doing so actively encourages students to make connections beyond their primary discipline.
My hopes were realized and I found myself on the IU Bloomington campus once more, this time equipped with the wisdom imparted by my classmates and friends with whom I spent the summer two years back. When I finished my Ballantine climb this time around it was with confidence, assured that I was joining a community not unlike the one I knew for those eight unforgettable weeks of summer.
Kayleigh Fischietto is a dual degree student pursing an M.A. through REEI and MLS in the School of Informatics and Computing in hopes of a career in Slavic area studies librarianship. Her research interests include gender and sexuality in 19th – 20th century Russia, with a special focus on queer subjectivities in literature. This summer she hopes to return to the Summer Language Workshop, which she continues to call SWSEEL.
We want to hear your stories!
We believe that SWSEEL can be a life-changing experience for students, enriching their education, providing opportunities for advancement, encouraging them to develop global perspectives, and equipping them with the language proficiency and cultural competence necessary to succeed in an increasingly global professional and academic environment.
Please consider submitting an essay, short story or photo-essay about your SWSEEL experience, reflecting on how language and area studies impacted your career and shaped you as an individual. We look forward to hearing from you!