April 18, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Happy Beginnings | Koran Studies Swahili in Tanzania, Heads to Peace Corps in Rwanda

Alexandra Koran, portrait

Alexandra Koran

Editor’s Note: The Happy Beginnings series features recent College of Arts & Sciences graduates who are getting started in careers, graduate school and service.

Ohio University alum Alexandra Koran ’19 won a U.S. Critical Language Scholarship, a highly prestigious and nationally competitive scholarship, to study Swahili for eight weeks in Tanzania over the summer.

After the critical language program, she planned to start her service with the Peace Corps in Rwanda, where she will live and work as a Secondary Education English Teacher for 27 months.

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program is “an intensive language and cultural immersion program for American students,” according to the website. “The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains.” It is a program of the U.S. Department of State, “part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. CLS plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century’s globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.”

Koran earned a B.A. in Geography – Globalization and Development from the College of Arts & Sciences and a B.A. in Global Studies – Africa from the Center for International Studies at OHIO.

As an undergraduate, she served as a World Languages Ambassador for the center, where she worked to promote languages on campus and at various events.

Koran first began learning Swahili when she traveled to Tanzania in 2017 with the support of the Gilman International Scholarship. There she assisted teaching in a nursery school and completed an independent study project with a local water engineering office. Her time spent observing ongoing water projects on Mount Kilimanjaro impressed upon her the importance of understanding the Swahili language.

She completed her second year of Swahili through the Swahili STARTALK program at Ohio University in 2018. Swahili STARTALK is a four-week, fully-funded domestic language learning program. With a program extension, Koran and other intermediate Swahili students completed a full academic year of language learning in six weeks. The STARTALK program greatly improved her confidence and speaking ability and also increased her Swahili grammar and vocabulary knowledge.

In her final year at Ohio University, Koran enrolled in an independent study course to learn Advanced Swahili. She devoted much of her time and effort to working with the Swahili language program in the Linguistics Department. Koran assisted during Swahili conversation hours, spoke with other students in the program about opportunities for Swahili learners, and served as a coordinator and master of ceremonies at Swahili night in March, an event to promote and celebrate Swahili culture.

“I have received a tremendous amount of support from Ohio University, including within the Geography Department. My two advisers, Dr. (Thomas) Smucker and Dr. (Edna) Wangui have certainly mentored me into the student and person I am today. I am forever grateful for their continued support and investment in students that has guided me throughout my undergraduate career. The Geography Department’s passion for the work that they do does not go unnoticed to students and it inspires us to work hard to achieve our goals,” says Koran.

“For the long-term, she added, “I would like to attend graduate school when I return to the United States and study international development with a focus on East Africa and/or continue to study various East Africa languages and dialects. I have become extremely interested in language and its role in our world. I could very well see myself working in the field of international development doing work with language in education systems in East Africa, or translating, or studying more about the many languages in this region from more of a linguistic geography standpoint.”

A Love for Language

Language learning has been among Koran’s favorite experiences at Ohio University. She previously took French and then is enrolled in Swahili and Arabic courses. Koran credits studying Swahili with greatly influencing self-understanding and her relationship to the world at large.

The CLS program will help Koran to further develop her communication skills in Swahili. She is most excited to live with a host family and learn more about Tanzanian culture and daily life.

Amina Kassim, Coordinator of the Swahili Program and ’19 MA Linguistics; Alexandra Koran; Purity Wawire, Swahili Instructor and ’20 MA African Studies; and Peggy Sayo, Swahili Instructor and ’20 MA International Development Studies

Amina Kassim, Coordinator of the Swahili Program and ’19 MA Linguistics; Alexandra Koran; Purity Wawire, Swahili Instructor and ’20 MA African Studies; and Peggy Sayo, Swahili Instructor and ’20 MA International Development Studies

Koran is the first student from the Swahili Language Program to win the CLS award. The Swahili Language Program has significantly increased its presence on Ohio University’s campus this year with their participation in multiple events during the International Week, hosting of Swahili Night and continued recruitment of students for the Swahili STARTALK summer program.

For more information about the Swahili Language Program please contact the Linguistics Department (Dr. David Bell) and for information about Swahili STARTALK please contact the Center for International Studies (Dr. Catherine Cutcher).

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