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Language learning around the world, WEST-style…

July 10, 2009
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Hello, hola, bonjour, and Guten Tag! We at WEST hope that your summers are going well wherever you may be, and that your experiences are proving rich and memorable! In this update, we’d like to highlight the adventures and experiences of a few of our Summer FLAS (Foreign Language Area Scholarship) recipients.

**Richard Barrett has been keeping a detailed blog on his adventures studying Modern Greek in Athens all summer. One of his more recent entries, from July 4th, offers interesting thoughts on the day-to-day experience of being an American in Greece:

“Yesterday was the last day of my first class at the Athens Centre. It’s a bit hard to believe that this particular chapter has closed, but I suppose all those people who told me that the time would go by quickly are right.

The Athens Centre does six different levels in the Immersion category; I started out at level three, which is basically intermediate. We’ve finished the class not having hit quite all of the things which were covered by the fourth semester of the sequence at IU, but since I skipped over the middle two semesters, I’ve been content to have the chance to let things settle a bit. I’ve been very appreciative of Anna, the teacher, who has a grounding in Ancient Greek and Latin and is able to answer a lot of the kinds of questions I have; with her help, I was able to find the textbooks used in the secondary schools here to teach Ancient Greek. (They’re dirt cheap, too — three Euros or so a pop, and in the States books like these would cost around $25 apiece. I asked Anna if Greek linguistic pride was state subsidized; she smiled and said, “Φυσικά!” — “Of course!”) She uses the communicative approach while being able to talk about grammatical and linguistic issues, which is very helpful for me. As I found out yesterday, she’s also teaching Level IV, and I’m happy about that. …

It’s really interesting trying to function in Greek; one very telling experiment was to go into a bunch of different shops starting off in Greek and seeing how long it took before either the shopkeeper switched to English or I had to switch to English to be able to tell them what I wanted. Some people replied in English immediately; one or two spoke English to me before I said anything at all but then looked taken aback, if not downright confused, when I replied in Greek. Cab drivers are great people to try to talk to; I usually take a taxi to and from my chant lesson, and the ones who talk seem to have a lot to say. I’ve gotten the same response from several when I’ve answered their questions about where I’m from and what I’m doing here — “Why? Since when do Americans care about what happens here?” One cabbie, when I assured him that I care very much about what happens here, told me, “Well, maybe you can get other Americans to care, too, then. You guys have all the power, not us.”

(Travel tip regarding hailing cabs here: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Keep trying, and eventually one will stop. Of the ones that stop, eventually one will agree to take you where you want to go. Just be patient and give yourself some extra time.) …

So, one thing that it is pretty hard to get around when it comes to being in this part of the world:

It’s hot.

Now, it’s nowhere near as humid as Indiana is this time of year, so I’m on the whole more comfortable here than I would be at home, but back home I’d be in an air-conditioned building most of the day. That’s not the case here, generally. Greeks are built for the heat and tend to manage without A/C. Maybe they have it, and maybe they even tell you “Turn it on if you need it,” but there’s something unspoken, something behind the eyes, that says, “Only if it’s life or death, please.” I told Arvanitis that to me, it’s always hot here; he chuckled and said, “To me, when I’m in America, it’s always cold.” …

I’m not sure that we in the constantly climate-controlled parts of the United States fully appreciate how much the weather has an impact on how people behave, to say nothing of the general rhythm of life, in this part of the world. There’s an extent to which dressing comfortably means something very different here than it usually does in the States, for example; mid-afternoon naps make more sense than working during the hottest part of the day; days tend to extend into the nights because it’s still warm but not too hot, and so on.”

Catch up further with him and his adventures at http://leitourgeia.wordpress.com/.

**Steven Schrum, a PhD student from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, offers these thoughts about his experience with the Summer Dutch Institute here at IU:

“I’ve just finished my class here at the Summer Dutch Institute in Bloomington.  This is my second time studying at the institute at IU and the program has only gotten better.  I am a PhD student in history at Washington University in St. Louis.  Because my own school does not offer Dutch, the summer courses at IU are one of the few opportunities I have to learn the language.  I took the second year language course with Esther Ham and it was a wonderful experience.  The course met every day for three hours and over the course of eight weeks we covered an entire year’s worth of material.

In addition to class, there were also many extra cultural activities – weekly movies, trips to museums, coffee hours.  My personal favorites were the culinary experiences.  One of the first events we had was the Pannekoeken where Esther’s husband, Peter, made traditional Dutch pancakes for us.  The herring tasting on the last day of class was also a real treat; although sampling these tiny, salty, and somewhat slimy fish required a bit more courage on our parts.

I took this course to learn to read Dutch for my research.  I’m writing my dissertation on the comparative economic development of England and the Dutch Republic in the 1690s.  Esther has been very generous with her time in helping me work towards my goal of reading seventeenth century texts.  In addition to everything else, she met with me twice a week to help me learn to read a variety of texts from the time period.  I am leaving for the Netherlands in a week to do some preliminary research for my dissertation and I can’t wait to try out my new Dutch skills.”

Thanks to Richard and Stephen for sharing their summer FLAS experiences with us! Stay tuned for further Summer FLAS fellow updates, and other news and new happenings around WEST!

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