On Tuesday, June 4th, the Champaign Schools Foundation hosted its first “Freshman Focus” at Parkland Community College. The purpose of this event was to introduce freshman students from Centennial, Central and Urbana high schools to academic subjects (like Russian, Arabic, Swahili, and computer programming) not readily available in their own schools in order to motivate them to enroll in academically challenging classes in high school to prepare for college.
As a presenter during the Freshman Focus program I had the opportunity to talk about Russian language and culture to 40 of these bright, local students. After I briefly introduced myself I began the lesson began with a very brief group “quiz” which asked the following questions: What is an alternate, official name for Russia? What is the present capital of Russia? What was the capital city of Russia for most of the 18th and all of the 19th century? From 1917-1991 Russia was part of a larger country. What was that country called?
The students had a lot of fun arguing amongst themselves about whether or not the Soviet Union still existed and if Stalingrad had ever been the capital of the Russian Empire. After revealing the answers to the quiz, the Russian language lesson began. This consisted of an introduction to both the oral and written alphabet. Next, students were introduced to some of the most important words and phrases of the Russian language and were even able to ask each other (in Russian, of course!) “what is your name?” and respond appropriately. Our young local scholars showed enthusiasm and openness and were not afraid of looking (or sounding) silly.
To conclude the session, I asked students whether they had thought about going abroad in the future. Almost everybody raised their hand! I told students about some of the very low-cost resources available to high school students to study outside of the United States including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) — a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program, and the Rotary Youth Exchange that sponsors programs of varying length in more than 150 countries throughout the world. After each lesson, students were rewarded for their hard work and attention with Russian candy. They were encouraged to take handouts explaining the options and requirements of majoring in Russian in college and a brochure on what graduates from the University of Illinois’s Russian, East European and Eurasian Center have gone on to do professionally.
Working with CUScholars was a really fun experience. It reminded me that our community has a really bright future and that the local school systems provide great opportunities for students to explore the world outside of their own schools. To find out more about the CUScholars program, see the organization’s website at cuschoolsfoundation.org.
Nellie Manis finished her MA at REEEC with a graduate minor in European Union Studies in May 2013. She received a BA in History and a BA in International Studies from Penn State University in 2008. In August she will begin a Fulbright Student grant at the Linguistics University of Nizhnii Novgorod in Russia. In addition to coursework in translation and interpretation she will research the differences between translation pedagogy in the United States and Russia.