—UMBC in Mexico, Fall 2010—

Last August 2010 I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of UMBC students to Mexico. Students were about to spend four months studying Spanish at CEPE  (Centro de Español Para Extranjeros ) at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México ).  When I welcomed the students at the airport in Mexico I saw on their faces a mixture of expectation, fear, and tiredness after a long flight.

The following days were full of activities from orientation to the school, placement tests, registration of classes and purchasing books to short excursions around the Zocalo, visits to Museo Antropologico, the city, and first food tasting before moving in with Mexican host families or roommates. Students had the opportunity to experience the greatest celebration of the year and century that took place on September 16 as Mexico celebrated the bicentennial of its independence.

Here is a picture of one of the best excursions we did to Xochimilco, a beautiful town that is better known for its extended series of canals and where some telenovelas have been filmed.

Study abroad is not just learning a new language but also experiencing the culture and challenging yourself to try other ways of being, doing, thinking, and expressing. Mexico is a very big country full of multiculturality, history, art and beautiful hidden places waiting to be discovered by all of us. Are you ready to experience it?  Read what our students share about their experiences:


David Anguish
I studied abroad in Mexico last semester.  Living in Mexico City made me realize that I knew hardly any Spanish.  But instead of spending my time missing my friends back home even more, I dedicated myself to learning the language as quickly as I could.  After four months I’m back home.  I don’t worry about Spanish clases anymore because I’m finally unafraid to speak.

Many professors have told me that the only way to learn a new language is to study abroad in a country in which that language is spoken.  It’s not true.  The truth is that spending time abroad will help you … but that alone is insufficient.  You have to practice what you learn in class, go to bars, make friends with natives and maybe even find a boyfriend or girlfriend (there is no better way to quickly learn a new language).  If you’re thinking about studying abroad—do it.  You’ll regret missing the oppportunity.

Ashley Pleasant—
I grew weary with the anticipation of another celebration in Mexico.  After the bicentennial of independence in September and the centennial of the Revolution in October, my heart finally began to settle down from the nightly shock of fireworks, concerts and random gunshots. But, the celebration that touched my heart was the very next month, November 1st and 2nd, El Dia de Muertos.  “It’s when the dead come alive. It’s an expression of departing souls in offerings and bursts of color,” my landlady told me before she advised me to brace myself, as she pulled out a sugary piece of bread crossed with bones from behind her back.  I wasn’t scared.  Of all the things I saw in Mexico the least frightful of them would have been souls following flower tracks to the homes of their loved ones. I embraced the occasion.  I went to Plaza Hidalgo in Coyoacan to see the massive offerings swelling with turquoise, orange, hot pink, beans, bread, fruit, and happiness. It made sense; why not celebrate life? And what didn’t make sense the other spectators gladly explained: there were two days for the holiday, the first for children, the second for adults, and the food on the offerings would help the dead complete their journey to the underworld. But, how far could a soul travel to an offering? That night I decided to test the distance.  I placed an old candle and a single cempasúchitl, half wilted from earlier that day, on the desk in my room, hoping the soul of my late uncle in Baltimore would find its way to Mexico. Even if he did not come, when I lit the candle I found peace with his death.

Sarah Carney
After spending close to four months in Mexico, I have become enchanted by the country. At first, I had simply decided to take advantage of UMBC’s study abroad program in Mexico City at UNAM to focus entirely on improving my speaking abilities, but the experience there gave me so much more. The classes offered were brimming with information about the development of Mexico’s spectacular, intricate history and culture, and being able to study a topic in the classroom and then venture out and study it further in one of the fantastic museums made me appreciate so much the amazing resources Mexico City had to offer. The language classes at UNAM were geared toward teaching the nuances of the Mexican Spanish and provided me with a much deeper understanding of the language than I feel I could have ever gained in a setting in the United States, while the art and literature courses revealed to me what great contributions Mexico has made to the world of photography, sculpture, literature and poetry.

And there is absolutely no greater feeling in the world, than sitting on top of a 2000 year-old pyramid at Teotihuacán, feeling like queen of the world . . .

—Dr. Elisabeth Arevalo-Guerrero, Visiting Professor of Spanish, MLLI

—From Our Alumni—

Recent MLLI graduate Danielle Viens-Payne (B.A., December 2010) writes:

I am taking a semester off before starting my graduate studies, and am currently working with U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education (USHYEE) right here in Baltimore.  What we do is focus on the high school to college continuum in regards to Hispanic youth, and introduce the idea of entrepreneurship to them.  Recently, USHYEE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Baltimore County Public Schools to form three USHYEE student chapters in three local Baltimore County public high schools: Lansdowne, Woodlawn, and Owings Mills.  I, along with two other interns, work directly with these marginalized Hispanic high school students in a voluntary after-school program at these schools.  We stress what we like to refer to as H.C.L. or, High School, College, and Leadership.  During our after-school meetings twice a month, we discuss three main topics, along with many other sub-topics: the importance of finishing high school, how to do so; the importance of going to college, how to begin such a process and how to succeed; and we build leadership skills in the process.  The after-school meetings are our main method of reaching out to the students, but we also offer outside trips, activities, events, and more, such as the ACHIEVE Forums held at JHU and Towson, trips to Baltimore's City Hall for public hearings, trips to museums, fundraising events, and more. We encourage our students to apply to and attend the Hispanic Youth Symposium, as well.

Baltimore County has never had a program like this in the school system, and we are already seeing fantastic results in the short few months we have been involved.  We have about 75 students total participating in the student chapters, and the numbers are growing.  So many students have already thanked us profusely for helping them with their futures, and have told us that since joining USHYEE their grades have gone up, their attendance has gone up, and they no longer feel the need or desire to drop out of school or not move on to college.  Comments like these constantly remind us that we are not only interns for an organization that runs an after-school program for Hispanic youth, but we are also the mentors for these amazing students.  What a fantastic responsibility!

As a pilot program that is making history every day and growing rapidly, we are desperately in need of volunteers to assist us with many activities, events, trips, and more. Anyone who is interested in volunteering can reach me by e-mail or by phone at (888) 800-9779, press 1 for interns, ext. 110. Thank you!

Knitting is a common sight in Nepal, a small country that sits between India and China, and which contains the world's highest peak, Mount Everest. When one walks through the small alleys or gullies so common to the cities of Kathmandu Valley, there are numerous women sitting about their front steps, chatting and knitting. They're often making hats to help support themselves, and these hats are in turn collected by businessmen who ship them overseas, where there is a larger market. That these hats should end up in the hands of UMBC's German Club might seem unlikely, but that's exactly what happened this past February, when the club held a hat fundraiser—a gamble that grew from the personal connection of one student to Nepal, and the club's enthusiasm for supporting local, handicraft industries while raising money for German Club events. As it turned out, the gamble was a success.

The fundraiser was held in the Breezeway from February 28th to March 3rd, and every hat sold had been handmade in Nepal in the manner already described. Female locals made the hats from wool before their products were sent to a warehouse near Bhaktapur, where other workers added fleece linings. They came in all designs imaginable, from standard caps, to Tibetan styles, to hats that looked like strawberries or cat ears, and indeed, many of the more imaginative hats were the first to sell out at prices ranging from ten to sixteen dollars. The sale was very much a success, and the German Club was proud to tell customers that the hats were helping Nepali women support their families in a country where money earned through these means makes a real difference. As a further contribution to Nepal, the club is also sending part of their earnings to poor students in Nepal.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the fundraiser possible, and to those who bought hats in support of the German Club. Another sale is already in the works for the coming, Fall semester, and the club is planning to continue donating money to Nepali students as a result. In the meantime, look forward to the cultural events that the fundraiser will promote, and enjoy some of the best quality hats that you'll ever find. —Janessa Mulepati.

. . . und noch einige Neuigkeiten—

Students in German 319 (German translation) are helping the Maryland Historical Society prepare exhibits of Der Deutsche Correspondent, a German-language newspaper published between 1841 and 1918 in Baltimore. The newspaper was founded by German immigrant Frederick Raine and now comprises a collection whose digitization is supported by the Hilgenberg family foundation. Each student is translating the front page of one edition of the newspaper, which includes advertisements as well as news about domestic and international events. The class project is designed to deliver a complete translation of selected front pages from the period between April and September 1914, just prior to and during the outbreak of World War 1. The Maryland Historical Society hopes to provide web-based access to Der Deutsche Correspondent as a part of implementing a Maryland German Heritage program with a network of related collections and people interested in German-American heritage.

Brittany Grasser, class of 2009, has been accepted into the German Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut.

The German Area is again soliciting applications for the Knapple and Plogman Scholarships.  The deadline for applications is April 28.

AATG (American Association of Teachers of German) /Maryland/VA/DC organized a  Summit Conference on the state of German instruction in the U.S. in February. More than a hundred educators attended along with representatives from the German-speaking embassies,  German cultural organizations, and industry and business.  Susanne Sutton was intimately involved in the organization of this event.  Brigitte May will be responsible for organizing the follow-up conference in September.

Susanne Sutton, Xenia Wolff and Brigitte May will all three present at the NECTFL (Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) conference in Baltimore, April 1 to April 4, 2011.

German Club's Techno Night a Big Success —The German Club hosted a Techno Night for the campus community on Friday, April 1. Techno is popular dance music in Germany and it turned out to be popular among UMBC students as well. During the course of the event, between 10 PM and 1 AM, about 300 people came to the Commons Game Room, enjoyed food and drink, and music provided by DJ Sparks. The event was made possible through SGA funds and organized by club officers Antoinette Seesz, Kyle Childress and Elizabeth Kohl.

Study Abroad in Montpellier, France . . .

A UMBC group consisting of Mark Chaffer, Jason Hall, Amy Kaper, Ryan Kotowski, Simon Maxwell,  Gerard Miller, Trisha Penn, Katherine Scheidegger-Hall, Tobi Thompson, and Thomas Field of the MLLI Department spent three weeks in Montpellier, France, during winter session, studying French, living with families, and traveling in the area.  Everyone seems to have felt that their proficiency in the language increased dramatically during this period. They also acquired new perspectives on public transportation, night life, food, Irish pubs, and "sales" (the regulated period of official discounting in all the stores of the city). Some were surprised to see that a typical French supermarket often has two full aisles of yoghurts and puddings, and that among the exotic American products for sale, one might find Marshmallow Fluff.  Ask any of the participants about their experiences with their families: most were memorable, and some were memorably strange.

Montpellier is a few minutes from the Mediterranean, but the group's stay there began with some very cold and damp weather, a lot like Baltimore, to our great disappointment -- Montpellier just had the coldest year on record. Fortunately, after about eight days there was a warm, sunny period, when people could easily sit outside at cafés and when one member of the group could rent a bicycle and ride to the beach. Short trips to Avignon, Nîmes, and the port of Sète were part of the school's offerings, and students also went on their own to places like Paris, Lyon, the Alps, and Perpignan (the capital of French Catalonia).

If you are interested, consider joining our next group to Montpellier, planned for January 2013. For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Field.

. . . and a Critical Language Scholarship to study in Russia

ooking back, my study abroad application process has been dictated more by the exigencies of the moment than by grandiose desires to travel to faraway lands.  I began in the Fall of my sophomore year scheming to find a way to go to Russia, the logical choice for a Russian major wanting to go to graduate school for Soviet history.  Study abroad programs in Russia are expensive, but early on I began talking to Dr. Brian Souders in the study abroad office to find alternative programs or ways of funding a semester abroad.  He introduced me to the Boren Scholarship, which is administered by the U.S. Department of State for undergraduate students wishing to study abroad in a country where the people speak a language deemed critical to national security and is less-commonly taught in American universities.  The application process is fairly involved, but personal statements are the crux of the application: applicants have to explain, in 12,000 characters, how their proposed study abroad program is essential to acquiring the language-skills necessary to national security, and why the applicant is particularly qualified to receive the scholarship. 

I remember when Dr. Souders returned my first drafts of Boren Scholarship essays last year and told me to just start over: the level of competition warranted a much more sophisticated and thorough argument for why I deserve such a scholarship.  On the surface it seemed discouraging, but after submitting multiple drafts I refined my motivations for studying abroad in Russia.

For the Boren Scholarship, applicants must declare a preferred and alternate study abroad program and explain why each is necessary to achieving their academic and professional goals.  I named Middlebury College School in Russia as my preferred program because it emphasizes independence in the host country in order to most effectively foster language acquisition.  I was selected as an alternate for the Boren Scholarship during the 2010 selection cycle.  Although I didn’t receive funding, my advisors reminded me that it was still an honor to be chosen as an alternate in only my second year of Russian. After going through the application process and exploring all of the opportunities within the federal government that acquiring advanced proficiency could provide, I knew that applying for the Boren Scholarship was something that I needed to do again.  I worked over the next months to improve my personal essays, continue to communicate with my professors about my study abroad plans, and absorb as much Russian as I could. 

Throughout the Boren Scholarship application process, there was frequent reference to the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program, also administered by the State Department.  I didn’t seriously consider the CLS until after I first applied for the Boren Scholarship.  Since I already had experience in compiling a competitive application, I again felt that I had nothing to lose by applying for another fantastic opportunity.  The Critical Language Scholarship is a fully-funded grant for undergraduate and graduate students to study a critical language at an intensive language institute over the summer.  So last October, I started the application process over again to study this summer (preceding my proposed full-year program which would begin in the Fall).  With the help of my advisors and the experience of applying for the Boren Scholarship the previous year, I was able to put together a successful submission for the CLS selection committee.  This June I will be going to Kazan', Russia, to study a year’s worth of college-level language material in eight weeks with the State Department!  Hopefully, after reapplying for the Boren Scholarship, I will be able to return to Russia in the fall at Middlebury College Schools in Yaroslavl', and then study in the Spring at Middlebury College’s site in Moscow.  With patience, introspection, and the invaluable guidance of faculty mentors, I finally made some lemonade.

—Abigail Bratcher (Honors College, double major: Russian and History, minor: Political Science)

— Korean Film Series: Family Values in Korea —

— Korean Culture Workshop —

For more information, contact Dr. Contact Dr. Kyung-Eun Yoon.

Honors Presentations

Please join us on Monday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. in UC 310 to hear this year's presentations by the graduating students in our Honors Program:

Sarah Hovde will be talking about the things that she has discovered in her exploration of 1960s political activism, both the ways in which language was used for protest and the particular kinds of political language that were characteristic of linguists at the time. Was the use of obscenities in scholarly papers a form of activism?

Sandra Lamplugh will present her work on expressive character names in literature, the ways in which a name can be devised so that it communicates something about the character to whom it is attached and the problem that such names pose for translation. How do people translate the names in Harry Potter, for example?

The Tournées Film Festival — a series of five contemporary French films — returned to UMBC during spring semester. The festival took place in the University Center, featuring one film a week from February 17 to March 15, 2011.

The film festival was made possible this year thanks to the funding and support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Culture (CNC), the Department of Modern Languages, Linguistics and Intercultural Communication, the Honors College, the Office of Student Life’s Mosaic: Culture and Diversity Center, the Intercultural Living Exchange, and the French Society. All the films were free to the public.

The Tournées festival featured five critically acclaimed films chosen to represent the diversity of new French cinema in terms of cultural themes, styles, and genres. The festival opened with Two Days in Paris (Delpy, 2007), a comedy with an intercultural twist and continued with The Secret of the Grain (Kechiche, 2007),a drama centered on a North African family living in the Southern French town of Sète. The festival included also the last film of legendary New Wave auteur Eric Rohmer The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Rohmer, 2006) and the celebrated biopic portraying French icon Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose (Dahan, 2007). The last film, Paris (Klapisch, 2008), focused on the personal and intercultural complexities contained within one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

The screenings, attended by a mix of Francophiles, students and professors, were introduced by MLLI faculty members, including Dr. Thomas Field, Dr. Zakaria Fatih, Dr. Judith Schneider, Dr. Nicoleta Bazgan, and Dr. Denis Provencher. —Dr. Nicoleta Bazgan.

Dr. Denis Provencher (MLLI) introduces Paris (Klapisch, 2008), the last screening of the film festival.

The Modern Languages Letter is edited by Dr. Steven Young
The deadline for our Fall semester 2011 issue is Friday, October 21, 2011.
MLLI students and alumni are encouraged to submit items.