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2011 SWSEEL Program Closes with Record Numbers

Blackboard with Dari

Intensive language training has a long history in Bloomington: IU has hosted summer study of “less commonly taught” languages since 1950.  Originally an intensive summer Russian language program, the institution that has since become the Summer Workshop in Slavic, East European and Central Asian Languages can trace its beginnings back to an era even before the founding of the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center.    As the years have passed the Workshop has grown in both size and scope.  New languages, including many in the IAUNRC’s regions of interest, have been added; student enrollments have expanded. 

The IAUNRC has long been an important linguistic and organizational SWSEEL partner, and its involvement with the Workshop has also only grown with the years.  Today, according to the Indiana Alumni Magazine, SWSEEL is the largest summer language seminar of its kind in the US – and its courses in Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Tajik, Turkish, and others represent one of the largest concentrations of students studying these languages anywhere in North America.  In 2011, record numbers – literally hundreds – of students participated in SWSEEL; of them, ninety-nine studied languages from within IAUNRC’s regions of interest.

Tatar and Turkish were offered by SWSEEL for the first time in 2011.  Other languages, such as Uzbek and Tajik, have been a constant element of SWSEEL over the last decade or so, yet 2011 also marked a high point in their recent enrollments: interest was consistent across many languages and levels.  It is this very “width and breadth,” says Dr. Ariann Stern-Gottschalk, SWSEEL’s Director, that makes the Central Asian Languages such an important part of the Workshop. “We have a capacity that is unlike any other language program in the country,” she remarks, “and a lot of that is thanks to the Central Asian languages in the Workshop.”

It would be wrong to think, however, that SWSEEL is limited to the classroom – the Workshop includes a wide variety of cultural events, film showings, and even food tastings.  As part of this cultural program, IAUNRC organized 35 cultural events over the eight week program.   Kristoffer Rees, who developed the IAUNRC’s cultural offerings for SWSEEL, highlighted a series of student-run research presentations that were organized in addition to the standard array of lectures, films, and holiday celebrations.  “In all, there were six student presentations,” Rees noted, “covering topics as diverse as falconry in the Kazakh steppe, language policy in Central Asia, 19th Century Central Asian literature, and ethnic policy in China.” 

Nicolas Kontovas, who moderated a separate Central Eurasian Research Routable during SWSEEL, had the opportunity to sit in on a number of these student presentations.  He gave them a rave review: “The calligraphy talk, the instrument talk, the talk on falconry -- all of these were given by students and they were some of the best I've ever seen at SWSEEL.”  Moreover, these research presentations proved an excellent way to bring together different elements of the SWSEEL program: they were open to all students, no matter what language they were studying, and were often attended by audiences of 15-20 students.  

This sort of student-driven crossover may also be an increasingly important part of the SWSEEL program in coming years.  As SWSEEL continues to grow in both student enrollment and language offerings, one of the key concerns faculty and administrators express is the way that different languages and regions will fit together into one cohesive Workshop.  Dr. Stern-Gottshalk highlights inter-lingual program synthesis and overlap as one of SWSEEL’s most unique elements, and expresses her commitment to maintaining the Central Asian languages as an integral part of SWSEEL as the program continues to grow and expand.

For more information on SWSEEL, please visit their website at