The IU Hamilton Lugar School’s Language Workshop attracted 300 students from across the country this summer to complete one year of language training in only eight weeks. These students now join thousands of Workshop alumni, including former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, among other ambassadors, diplomats, academics, military members, and professionals in a variety of fields.The Workshop is intensive for all students, but students in the Arabic, Chinese, and Russian programs are required to speak only their languages of study for the entire program. These students live together in IU residence halls and become fast friends.
Students from 139 institutions completed training in 25 less-commonly-taught languages like Korean, Swahili, and Turkish, and those defined as critical languages by the U.S. government. In fact, every year, the U.S. Departments of Defense, Education, and State support Workshop attendees with generous scholarships — $1.25 million in 2022 — underscoring the Workshop’s value to the nation.
Conversation and Confidence
Larissa Foley, who is majoring in Russian and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, enrolled in the Workshop to prepare for studying abroad in Kazakhstan for one year after she completes the Russian Flagship Program at her university.
“I wanted to complete the most training possible in the least amount of time,” said Foley. “I actually really enjoy how challenging it is. We have four hours of class each day and every Friday we have two exams: oral and written, and five to six hours of homework a day.”
The intensity of the Workshop mirrors how motivated the students are.
“I want to become a lawyer and work in immigration law and use Russian in a professional sense daily,” said Foley. “I would love to help people who have a difficult time finding legal representation due to a language barrier.”
Like many Workshop students, Foley also has personal reasons for language learning.
“My mom is from Russia and my dad is American but fluent in Russian, so I thought it would be so cool to one day be able to hold a conversation with them in Russian or say more than ‘I love you’ to my Russian grandmother,” she said.
Workshop courses are taught largely through conversation.
“It’s more fun that way,” explained Foley. “In class, we role play and talk about real life topics. For example, right now we’re talking about bosses and employment and it’s so interesting because we’re learning to talk about complex hypothetical topics.”
“A huge benefit is getting comfortable with speaking and comfortable with making mistakes,” she continued. “Sometimes if you’re scared to make mistakes, you’re scared to even talk. Speaking only in Russian has made me so much more confident.”
Peacemaking through Language
Former U.S. Army Soldier Mason Conley completed first-year Ukrainian classes this summer, fulfilling a long-held personal goal. After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Conley’s Army Unit helped train Ukrainian national guard forces to defend against Russia.
Conley speaks Russian, German, and Serbian and was able to communicate with Ukrainians but always wanted to learn the language.
“I met a lot of Ukrainians on the eastern border and after training with them, that reinvigorated my want to go to School for Slavic languages,” said Conley, who is on track to complete a master’s in Slavic Linguistics at IU.
“Because of the renewed war, and my feeling that what we did in Ukraine mattered, I want to try to be a more vocal supporter for Ukraine,” said Conley. “I would like to see the war come to an end and go back during the rebuilding phase if they need volunteers. If you are living or working in an area, you want to be able to speak to people in their own native language or at least make an effort to learn.”
Conley is also interested in offering refugee assistance in the U.S.
“I would like to be able to communicate and ease people’s minds and alleviate the stress of being in a foreign environment,” said Conley. “It doesn’t have to be a lot. I have butchered numerous languages just trying to let people know that I can say ‘how are you’ in their language.”
Conley plans to continue in the Slavic Linguistics Ph.D. program at IU.
Teaching French, Learning Arabic
Mackenzie Campbell, from the University of Chicago, completed fifth level Arabic in the Workshop this year. She is a French professor at the University, and attended the Workshop remotely.
“I’ve been in the Workshop for the past three summers and this year I returned because of visiting scholar, Egyptian author Dr. Alaa Al Aswany,” said Campbell, who recently completed master’s degrees in Arabic and Linguistics.
“Having studied French literature, I had some familiarity with French speaking Arab countries such as those in North Africa and Arab speaking communities in France,” said Campbell. “There is a whole vernacular or way of forming words in French, and a lot of those words come from Arabic. So I’ve had some familiarity with Arabic’s importance on my studies but I wanted to dive into the language much deeper.”
While Campbell’s interests in Arabic are academic, they are also rooted in her interest in international and community-oriented work.
“There was the idea that maybe this language would be helpful for foreign language education work with certain communities in the United States,” she said.
“Separate from how I plan on using the Arabic language professionally, I think this program has really changed my world view,” she continued. “I have been able to speak with Arabic speaking people in the U.S. and have made connections with people I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It has meant a lot to me, and I hope it has meant a lot to the people I have communicated with. So, in that respect, [the Workshop] has had a bigger impact on my life than I even realize right now.”
Studying, Learning, and Living Together
Phoebe Diehl, who is majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Chinese at Arizona State University, completed third level Mandarin Chinese in the Workshop. Diehl, an American who grew up in Hong Kong, said that learning Chinese would be advantageous to her future career plans in solar energy.
“I did an internship one summer building solar fields in South Sudan and was trying to figure out the battery storage,” she explained. “As I was doing my research, I realized all of the big solar companies were Chinese, which encouraged me to study it at a more advanced level and try to learn words related to chemistry and solar.”
Diehl lived in an IU residence hall with the other Workshop students who committed to only speaking Chinese.
“It was fun to be able to take the immersion commitment, and then do things like go grocery shopping together, talk about our daily life, and use Chinese in these different environments,” said Diehl. “When you struggle and work hard with people you build strong connections with them.”
Every evening, students took part in ‘clubs’ to experience cultural activities. They practiced their language skills by cooking together, learning dances and songs, calligraphy, and other activities that varied daily.
IU International Studies major, Micaela Fenn, said connecting with people was the best part of the Workshop.
“Every Friday night was cooking club. It was so nice to eat and prepare Arabic cuisine with the Arabic women who taught us the dinners they serve to their families,” said Fenn. “I loved working with classmates to make the food. After three hours we would all sit down and it would be so quiet because we were all eating, with Arabic music playing in the background. It was a surreal experience, learning about these new dishes, and just hanging out and having a good time.”
Fenn, who is in the IU Arabic Flagship program, said another favorite part of the Workshop was learning about the different ‘Eids,’ in Arab culture, which means ‘celebrations.’
“Ramadan comes with two celebrations that we simulated. One was to celebrate someone returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca. We also simulated Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, to break our fast. We handed out little plates of food with dates, and it was a nice way to experience the traditions,” Fenn explained.
IU Linguistics graduate student Nick Williams, who studied Russian in the Workshop, said the social aspect has been the best part.
“It’s nice because we’re making friends with whom we share a common goal,” said Williams. “The fact that you can only speak Russian … makes you less self-conscious. There is no holding back, we make each other laugh, and it’s a good time. It’s very open and it’s what makes the Language Workshop special. It is also what the baseline for what language learning should be.”
Diehl confessed her favorite part of the workshop.
“Honestly, the most fun part was class!” she said. “I did really enjoy the clubs, dancing, and especially the Chinese dialect workshop. I learned how to play Mahjong and that was fun, but I really enjoyed going to class every day because everyone had so much energy. We had a good time talking about our perspectives on social issues and making jokes, and I think this is just the best way to learn.”
The 2023 Language Workshop will begin accepting applications on September 5, 2022, and will expand its offerings to include Navajo and Norwegian. The Workshop is open to professionals and students across the U.S., including graduate, undergraduate, and high school juniors and seniors. Indiana University offers a total of 80 languages — more than any university in the country. Among many sources of funding, more than $1 million in scholarships are available from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Education, and State.