The mission of California State University, Northridge’s College of Humanities is to teach its students how to explore and value the diversity of cultures. One way the college does this is through its Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program, which Cal State Northridge has hosted for the past four years.
This immersive summer program recently received a $100,000 Startalk grant. Startalk is a component program of the National Security Language Initiative, which seeks to expand and improve the teaching and learning of strategically important world languages that are not widely taught in the United States.
“The Startalk grant provides the College of Humanities the opportunity to build on its NSLI experience while going in new and interesting directions with the Startalk model,” said Dina Mokhnatkin, the project’s director and a modern and classical languages professor at Cal State Northridge.
“For instance, we will now be able to provide students with a newly created curriculum titled ‘Let’s Talk About Life,’” Mokhnatkin said. “The curriculum focuses on providing students with knowledge of Russian language and culture while fostering their ability to effectively communicate in Russian in the modern world.”
Elizabeth Say, dean of the college said: “The College of Humanities is pleased that the Startalk grant allows the college to continue offering summer immersion in Russian language and culture to its diverse student population in the San Fernando Valley and beyond.”
The summer program also provides an opportunity for the College of Humanities to expand enrollment in its Russian Studies Program degree pathways by generating greater interest among the student population.
CSUN’s Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program is designed to promote accelerated Russian language proficiency as well as deepen awareness of culture, protocols and national identity in modern Russia.
The six-week residential program is aimed at highly motivated undergraduate and high school students and ROTC applicants interested in academic and career trajectories that are complemented and enhanced by proficiency in Russian language and culture.
The program includes two groups: intermediate students, who have some knowledge of the Russian language, and novice students, who are approaching the subject for the first time. While in the program, participants engage in tiered grammar and conversation coursework; attend field trips to local Russian businesses, events and cultural sites throughout Los Angeles’ large Russian-American community; and partake in campus-based cultural activities.
Students who are 18 or older live in university housing and participate in after-class study sessions, which include reading Russian newspapers and magazines, watching Russian movies and working on homework and program projects. Students who are under 18 commute each day and leave after their coursework. All participants pledge to speak exclusively in Russian throughout the program.
What makes this program unique is the diversity of the students’ majors, Mokhnatkin said.
“University students among the current cohort are majoring in political science, environmental studies, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, history, international studies, sociology, engineering, Russian studies and finance,” said Mokhnatkin. Studying alongside CSUN students are participants from UC Irvine, Wheaton College, University of Louisville, Pasadena City College, and Arizona State University.
This year the program has accepted 21applicants. Among those participating are high school students, many of whom are academic decathletes from Valley Academy High School in Northridge training for an annual competition that will test their knowledge of Russian history and culture.
“We hope that the Startalk Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program will impact the CSUN community by bringing greater awareness to Russian studies as a whole,” said Mokhnatkin.
While many students are aware that CSUN offers classes in Russian language, literature in translation and culture studies, Mokhnatkin noted that few are aware of the benefits of studying Russian and the ways in which being conversant or fluent in Russian can impact future academic and career goals.
Students from past immersion program cohorts have gone on to graduate school to pursue Russian studies at the master’s and doctoral levels, while others have utilized knowledge and skills developed in the program to embark upon careers in the United States and abroad in related fields.
“Because Startalk offers a well-rounded curriculum that provides instruction in all aspects of modern Russian life, we expect even more spectacular results in the years to come,” said Mokhnatkin.