In 2012, then master’s student, Dilnova Khasilova had an idea for a new kind of language program that would allow students to learn about different world cultures and their respective languages in an approachable, informal setting.
“I had this baby idea about starting a language and culture program,” Khasilova said. “When we talk about language and culture, it goes to social studies. It’s all literacy. It’s about geography, history, and learning about people’s traditions.”
Rather than write a traditional style graduate thesis for her degree Khasilova opted to pursue a project with a unique angle. The project was the creation of the World Language and Culture Program, known as the WLCP.
In 2013, ASUW gave the project funding with a special grant and the program was underway.Khasilova, a Russian born native of Uzbekistan, drew inspiration from programs in her home country that taught English to Uzbeks and Russians, free of charge. It was these programs that prepared Khasilova for her move to Laramie. Her experiences in Wyoming have driven her to give back to the university.
Five years later, Khasilova is currently a Ph.D student in literacy and the head of the program, supervised by Ph.D Amy Roberts. The WLCP started with only three languages offered.
Due to the voluntary status of the instructors, the number of languages available fluctuates year to year. This year, the program offers 14 different languages. Last year was the most diverse in the program’s history with 17 languages.
The program has benefited students in a multitude of ways. It has prepared students for their semesters abroad, trained them for a diverse array of professional careers, and has given international students a chance to participate in campus culture.
“Sometimes international and exchange students may find it particularly challenging to adapt to leadership roles within U.S. institutions due to differences with leadership styles,” Roberts said. “The WLCP is a space on campus for international students to serve in leadership roles as trained and experienced WLCP instructors and assistants.”
The WLCP is no longer exclusive to UW students, but is open to UW employees and non-university affiliated community members.
For some program students, the program is a way to learn about a part of their heritage that has been more or less forgotten.
A bus driver for UW, Chance Shemin, grew up in Rhode Island. He was born in Uzbekistan, but was adopted when he was just over a year old. He has used the WLCP to learn a bit about himself.
“I never got to learn the language or culture of Uzbekistan,” Shemin said. “This class is finally giving me the opportunity to catch up to my native country.”
The program also gives students like Shemin the flexibility to learn in a way that best suits their style. For example, Shemin knew that a traditional PowerPoint style of learning would bring him minimal results, so his instructor, Khasilova, allowed him to help prepare videos for the rest of the class.
“I was able to catch up and learn Uzbek much better because I was one on one with my teacher who would tell me how to spell and say the words and writing the words over and over again which helped with memorizing how to spell and say words,” Shemin said. “And it was fun!”
Another student, Jennet Nedirmammedova, was able to find her place in the program. Jennet is originally from Turkmenistan and is a senior majoring in Environmental Systems Science and Religious Studies with minors in Sustainability and GIS.
Nedirmammedova teaches Turkmen and hopes her class can prep any students who may be interested in spending time in Turkmenistan or Turkey. She has also spent time as a student in the WLCP learning Hebrew, a class that has motivated her to continue to participate in the program.
“Now that I learned basic Hebrew for free through this course, I am wholeheartedly willing to pay back to the community and students by teaching Turkmen for those who are interested in Central Asian languages,” Nedirmammedova said.
Student stories like these illustrate the impact that the WLCP is having on campus. Whether it be students preparing to travel abroad, international students looking for a sense of belonging, or students seeking to rekindle a bit of their heritage, the program has proven to be an inclusive and diverse setting for eager learners of all backgrounds.
Potential students interested in joining this learning environment should visit facebook.com/culturelanguageprogram/ to learn more about scheduling information and registration.