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Learning, Connecting, Recruiting: Building on over sixty years of IU’s Summer Language Workshop (SWSEEL)

Each summer, for the past sixty-three years, students from all over the world converge in Bloomington to study over twenty less commonly taught languages offered at the Summer Language Workshop (SWSEEL). Founded in 1950, SWSEEL is one of the oldest and largest programs of its kind in North America and has grown to include Central Eurasian languages such as Dari, Kazakh, Mongolian, Hungarian, Pashto, Tatar, Uyghur, and Uzbek. This year, for the first time, Turkish and Persian were also offered.

As a long-term institutional partner, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center (IAUNRC) has played a key role in supporting the development and inclusion of Central Eurasian languages at SWSEEL. Many of the teaching methodologies for Central Eurasian languages were developed right on the Indiana University campus by the Central Eurasian Studies Department in collaboration with the Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region (CeLCAR) and the IAUNRC.

In addition to the intensive language learning program, this year’s SWSEEL saw the growth from previous years of two student-initiated groups. The Central Eurasian Studies Research Roundtable met weekly to provide opportunities for students to share and discuss their experiences doing research in Central Eurasia. The meetings culminated in a Central Asia Mini-Conference, a forum for students to present their research work to others. The Women’s Central Eurasia Network also met regularly for the second summer in a row to organize a mentoring program and a resource sharing database to support the research and work of women interested in Central Eurasia.

Each year, SWSEEL trains numerous undergraduate and graduate students coming from a wide variety of fields, as well as those in government and military services such as foreign area officers and ROTC students. What ties this diverse array of students together is their desire to learn languages that will enable them to build careers in often distant parts of the world. Recognizing the potential to build on this, SWSEEL is launching its own alumni association. Dr. Ariann Stern-Gottschalk, director of SWSEEL, highlights the importance of having a forum to bring SWSEEL students and graduates together:

“It is being able to make connections between alumni, because a lot of people have overlapping interests, and there are so many years of alumni. It is 63 years this coming summer. That’s a lot of people in a lot of different places who might be more than willing to share their experiences and their expertise with younger students, graduate students, who happen to be in the same field that they’re in, and who might be good for doing research with, or for recruiting to certain companies or agencies.”

Reconnecting with decades of alumni has been the first step and Dr. Stern-Gottschalk hopes that more and more alumni will find them as the work of the alumni association spreads.

“I’m very excited because there are just so many people, and to be able to reach out and connect them will be really powerful.”

At the moment plans for the alumni association include mini-reunions at upcoming conferences such as the annual conferences of the Central Eurasian Studies Society and the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages.

The alumni association also has an annual newsletter in the works, which will provide another forum for connecting people, highlighting their instructors, sharing experiences, as well as sharing information about funding and study opportunities.

Beyond the reunions and newsletters, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk also hopes that the alumni association will provide a channel for alumni to eventually create scholarships and fellowships to provide opportunities for other students to study the languages that have helped to build their own careers.

Ultimately, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk envisions SWSEEL as a whole as being an important resource for students beyond language learning.

“I think an important new direction is being a resource for our students beyond SWSEEL, beyond just language learning, to help them take their language learning to the next level and to make it applicable in building their careers.”

For more information about SWSEEL, or to contact them, please visit their website at: http://www.indiana.edu/~swseel/