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IU's Summer Language Workshop attracts students from across the country

July 10, 2014

Drawn to the intricate characters and swirling scripts of the world’s alphabets, Piper O’Sullivan’s passion for language began in her teens and continues to inform her work as a graduate student at IU.

O’Sullivan, 27, is a third-year Ph.D. student in IU’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies, where her research focuses on the literary politics of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Piper O'Sullivan

Piper O'Sullivan wears a traditional tribal textile called a "suzani" on a recent trip to Tajikistan, where she studied Persian through a scholarship from the U.S. government. | PHOTO COURTESY OF PIPER O'SULLIVAN

She has taken courses in three languages -- Pashto, Persian and Uyghur -- through the IU Summer Language Workshop, an intensive language training program that attracts students, faculty and professionals from across the U.S. This summer, she's learning Hindi-Urdu through the workshop.

“It’s my favorite way to spend my summer, honestly,” O’Sullivan said. “There’s really nothing else like it.”

The Summer Language Workshop, which started in 1950, provides eight- and nine-week summer classes on a variety of languages. This year’s offerings include Arabic, Hungarian, Mongolian, Persian, Polish, Russian, Tatar, Turkish, Uzbek and two new languages: Hindi-Urdu and Swahili.

Ariann Stern-Gottschalk, director of the Summer Language Workshop, said people must apply to participate in the workshop, which this summer has 34 faculty members and over 200 students -- about 40 percent of whom are IU undergraduate and graduate students.

She said the workshop is just one example of the strength of IU’s language and area studies expertise.

“Certainly, it has increased IU’s reputation as a destination for language study, especially for less common languages,” Stern-Gottschalk said. “Some students transfer here and some students do graduate study here because they came to the workshop.” 

O’Sullivan, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Central Asian studies from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., said she came to IU for its strong language programs, including the workshop.

“I love that it’s here at IU,” O’Sullivan said. “I love being able to take advantage of this; it’s such an amazing resource.” 

Learning Hindi-Urdu, she said, has been a challenging and fascinating experience because of the language’s two complicated scripts and its “musical” rhythm, reminiscent of Bollywood songs.

Workshop students recently finished their mid-term exams and have four more weeks of instruction and cultural activities, such as movies and food and music events, before the program concludes with an end-of-summer talent show, for which students prepare poems, skits, dances and songs to show off what they’ve learned.

O’Sullivan said she wants to use her language skills to better understand the cultures she’s studying and to eventually find a job where she can use that knowledge to help solve regional conflict and infrastructure issues.

Stern-Gottschalk said workshop participants often go on to teach language at universities, including IU, or work for the U.S. or foreign governments.

“Globalization is here, so language and culture training is a powerful tool for any student,” Stern-Gottschalk said.

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