The Swahili Flagship program, formed in 2011, will soon say “kwa heri,” or “goodbye,” to its first set of students.
Karlie Query, 23, Timothy Hoffelder, 22, and Christa Kumming, 23, will graduate from IU in May.
Under the Swahili Flagship program, which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate students achieve superior language proficiency and earn certification from the Language Flagship, a national initiative aimed at implementing innovative language programs across the nation.
Query, who will also graduate with a major in psychology, minors in African studies, African languages and communication and culture and a certificate in journalism, joined the Swahili Flagship program as a sophomore after transferring from IU-Purdue University Columbus.
“I decided I was going to take Swahili because I was kind of bored with other languages,” Query, a Columbus, Ind., native, said. “And my professor, one day in class, asked us, ‘Who wants to go to Africa?’ and people raised their hands, and then she handed out informational papers about the Flagship. And we actually went.”
Hoffelder, who will also graduate with majors in French and linguistics, joined the Swahili Flagship program as a freshman after encountering Swahili through a high school friend from Kenya.
In addition to Swahili and French, the Boren Scholar has studied Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.
“Ever since middle school, that’s been what I liked doing the most in school: studying language,” Hoffelder, a Pittsburgh native, said. “For a long time, I’ve been studying one or another.”
Spoken by over 140 million individuals, Swahili is the national language of four central and east African nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the program’s website.
Being the only Swahili Flagship program in the country and one of only two African Language Flagship programs in the country, the Swahili Flagship program differentiates itself from alternative language programs in five key fields:
accelerated language learning, advanced culture courses, overseas study, internship and professional connections.
“The students who decide to join this program decide to join this program because they want to be proficient in the language,” said William Kanyi, assistant director of the program. “They are not coming to this program to meet the requirements for their foreign language requirements. The Flagship program is about learning the culture, connecting with the culture and communicating.”
To determine if they have achieved superior language proficiency, students complete five exams: two online exams evaluating the students’ writing, reading and listening skills and two long-distance phone interviews evaluating the students’ oral skills.
Students must reach a superior level on the oral exams, designed by The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and level three of five on the writing, reading and listening exams, designed by the Interagency Language Roundtable, to graduate from the program.
In order to achieve superior language proficiency, in addition to completing a maximum of 45 credit hours in Swahili language, culture and independent study courses, students must meet with language partners three hours a week and can participate in extracurricular activities including conferences, film screenings and cooking classes.
Though the program can be completed in three to five years, students typically spend one academic year at IU, one summer in Zanzibar, another academic year at IU and another academic year in Zanzibar.
Query, Hoffelder and Kumming, as the first graduates of the program, spent a full year and a half in Zanzibar instead of breaking up their time abroad.
While in Zanzibar, a semiautonomous island chain off of Tanzania’s coast, the students spent the summer studying with fellow American students, a semester studying with Tanzanian students at The State University of Zanzibar and a semester interning at a location of their choice.
While in Africa, Query interned at the Detroit Sober House, where she counseled heroin addicts, worked with the arts program and developed a filing system.
“There were just so many lessons that I learned in Zanzibar that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else,” she said. “I feel like I actually matured and grew up more than I could have ever thought I would have before the age of 24.”
While in Africa, Hoffelder interned at Radio Instruction for Strengthening Education, an educational program targeted at kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders, “like ‘Sesame Street’ or ‘Dora the Explorer,’ but on the radio,” Hoffelder said.
“It gave me such a better understanding of, worldwide, how similar we are,” he said.
“We all have the same problems and that’s what makes us similar, but we solve them in totally different ways and address them in totally different ways, and that’s how we seem so different.”
Following graduation, Query plans to join the Peace Corps while Hoffelder plans to earn a Master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. Both said that the Swahili Flagship program influenced their future plans.
“When you’re sitting in a classroom in the United States, trying to learn a language, it’s sterile,” Query said. “There’s not enough flavor to it. You have to go. You have to be there. You have to hang out with the people on the streets. You have to taste the food. You have to stumble. You have to make a fool of yourself.”
You get out of the experience what you put into the experience, Hoffelder said.
“It’s a really big commitment,” Hoffelder said. “Sometimes, it kind of feels like a second job, but at the same time, it’s hugely rewarding. If you’re willing to commit to a language and a culture and a part of the world, then you will receive so much more than any other student who doesn’t join and commit to that. And you’ll pretty much become an expert.”