Home Human language First-generation student reconnects with Serbian roots, advocates for queer migrants

First-generation student reconnects with Serbian roots, advocates for queer migrants

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25 August 2021

The Melikian Center Institute of Critical Languages, in its 30th year of offering summer courses in less taught languages, is raising funds to support the future of one of its programs.

The institute offers a year of language learning condensed into a few weeks of intensive teaching, providing access to languages ​​not taught at other universities and benefiting students who wish to learn a language alongside their other studies.

Critical Languages ​​Institute courses, including Russian, were offered on Zoom this summer. A fundraising effort is underway to support the Russian program for years to come.
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“We bring people at the elementary level with the ability to have a variety of different types of conversations, to understand what people are saying to them in a relatively natural setting, and to respond appropriately, both in terms of language content. and culture, “mentioned Irina Levin, director of the Critical Languages ​​Institute and associate director of the Melikian Center at Arizona State University.

The institute does not currently charge tuition fees for students who earn credits through its courses. Instead, students simply pay administrative fees, along with other costs associated with their study abroad experiences (which were put on hold this summer due to the pandemic). Scholarships are also available.

A fundraising effort is underway to continuously support the Russian part of the institute. Emeritus professor Lee croft, the founder and former director of the Critical Languages ​​Institute, is working to endow the Russian program in his name. He hopes his former students and colleagues will join him in making a donation to support the future of what will come to be known as the Lee B. Croft Russian Program. During Croft’s nearly four decades of teaching at ASU, he estimates that he taught Russian to 6,000 students.

Professor Emeritus Lee Croft smiles for a photo during a trip to Hawaii.  He has white hair and is wearing a neon green t-shirt.  Behind him, the foliage of the island.

Professor Emeritus Lee Croft raises funds to endow the Critical Languages ​​Institute’s Russian program on his behalf.

Croft hopes to raise a total of $ 300,000 over the next five years so that the program can continue to offer tuition reductions or exemptions for all students as well as scholarships to study abroad in Russia. This funding would give the program long-term stability instead of being forced to depend on individual grants. Contributions to the endowment can be made through the ASU Foundation website.

Last summer, over 150 students attended the Critical Languages ​​Institute, which currently offers courses in 13 languages: Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Kazakh, Macedonian, Persian, Polish, Russian , Turkish, Ukrainian. and Uzbek.

Nemanja Demic, an ASU MSc student in Social Justice and Human Rights, enrolled in first year Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian through the Critical Languages ​​Institute this summer. (Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian was once known as Serbo-Croatian and is a language with a variety of dialects.)

Demic wanted to explore his Serbo-American identity and improve his skills as a heritage speaker.

“My family and I came to the United States as Serbian refugees in 2001. At the time, I was 6 years old,” he said. “Growing up in Arizona, the distance between me and my Serbian heritage grew wider and wider. Over the past few years, I’ve slowly started to think about what it means to be Serbo-American, and CLI thought it would help me in this area. “

Demic plans to enroll in the sophomore program next summer and hopes to study abroad in Sarajevo. He’s also applying for a Fulbright grant to conduct research in Serbia next year that builds on the work he’s already doing with queer migrant populations in Central America. In the meantime, he intends to practice his new language skills with members of his family.

“CLI is truly an amazing experience that I cannot encourage individuals to apply for enough,” said Demic. “If you’re interested in learning a new language, CLI will take you from zero knowledge of the language to conversational in just a few weeks. “

About a third of the participants at the Critical Languages ​​Institute are ASU students like Demic, but the rest are students from other universities and institutions, as well as members of the community. People come to the program with a variety of reasons for learning languages, from wanting to connect with their heritage or the legacy of their spouse, to hoping to advance their career prospects, or just to continue learning a language they they met for the first time in another setting.

Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian instructor Jakov Causevic poses with his students in 2019. Three are seated and three are standing, all in front of a wall of light brown wooden planks.

Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian instructor Jakov Causevic poses with his Critical Languages ​​Institute students in 2019. Classes normally take place in person but took place on Zoom this summer due to the pandemic.

“We want to emphasize to students the kind of doors this opens for them, both academically and in terms of various careers,” Levin said. “Having a solid foundation in this language and having this intensive language learning under their belt makes them more competitive.

The joy of learning a language is part of the call to Jakov Causevic, who has taught Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian through the Critical Languages ​​Institute for 10 years, including in Demic’s class this summer. Causevic grew up in what was once known as Yugoslavia and now lives in Belgrade, Serbia. He also studied Arabic and English at university and also took courses in several other languages.

“Languages ​​fascinate me, as does the process of language learning,” he said. “The gymnastics that an adult’s brain has to do to learn another language is pretty amazing. Plus, learning to convey thoughts and feelings with a different set of language tools – like idioms, for example – can be a lot of fun. ”


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