Like many graduate students, I decided to use my summer for language training. As an early modernist interested in the revival of classical texts during the Renaissance, I enrolled in an intensive Latin program that ran from May to August. The program is offered through the Latin/Greek Institute, a collaboration between Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. The courses offered this summer were Basic Latin, Basic Greek, and Advanced Greek. The workload was formidable to say the least and because the program has existed for over forty years the pedagogical methods have been refined to be highly efficient and logistically precise.
In the Basic Latin Program I spent ten weeks with fifteen other students not only learning the entire Latin morphology and grammar but also reading canonical texts by Virgil, Cicero, and Augustine. The first five weeks of the program were spent learning the entire Latin language. Because Latin is an entirely fossilized language, there is a finite body of grammar and word forms that have been codified. This means that one can learn only the words that exist in the corpus of Latin texts. For example, some verbs have only been used in the past tense, and thus we were expected to learn the conjugations only for the past tense even though the verb in question might theoretically be able to be conjugated in all tenses. This first half of the program was arguably the most rigorous, as the program covered in one day an amount of material that might be taught in a month in a typical university-level Latin course.
The second half of the program focused exclusively on literature. During the latter five weeks we read selections from Cicero, Sallust, an entire Book of Vergil’s Aeneid, and selections from Horace. The second half also included an elective course. Students chose between reading St. Augustine, Ovid, or Tacitus. These electives allowed for an opportunity to work in smaller groups and to read more closely into the content and style of the text.
The Latin/Greek Institute demands nearly complete dedication to the program. Students in my program spent a conservative average of twelve hours each day working with Latin, either in class or by working on homework. I can’t deny that the Institute produces results. Most students started without knowing any Latin and all finished the program being able to read Cicero and Vergil by sight.
The Institute for World Literature, created in 2011 thanks to the effort of a group of professors and scholars interested in the burgeoning debate around World Literature, was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 16th to July 22nd. Organized by Harvard University, and directed by David Damrosch, the Institute meets every summer in a different location, drawing together a wide-ranging academic community for an intense month of lectures, debates, and seminars.
Rutgers, as one of the founding institution of the Institute, has contributed to its development and success, and, since its inaugural session, has funded several students to participate in this intellectually stimulating experience. For graduate students in Comparative Literature the Institute has been particularly rewarding, given its global focus.
This summer I had the opportunity to be in Lisbon for a month and be part of this vibrant event, which I found challenging and intense, and yet, extremely friendly and welcoming. I attended two seminars (each lasting two weeks). Thanks to the diversity of the students and to the enthusiasm of the professors, who listened and coordinated very different takes on the readings assigned, I engaged in lively and inspiring discussions, which have helped me delve into questions that will be crucial for my future research.
Filinto Elísio, Capoverdian poet, delivers a lecture on diasporic Capoverdian writing
Apart from these intense seminars, students and scholars had the possibility to be part of an “Affinity Group.” Depending on one’s specific interests related to World Literature, every participant could choose a group and get together, rather informally, with other students working on similar topics. I personally chose “Poetics and Politics of World Literature” where I presented a paper (everyone is asked to do so) and received extremely interesting feedback. The organization and rationale of these groups is ideal, since every student is given the opportunity to share his or her work as in a conference, but without its formal and (potentially intimidating) setting.
In addition to these activities, the Institute hosted several lectures by prominent scholars of World Literature and by poets and writers, along with panels focused on relevant contemporary debates in academia, such as publishing and program design.
Zhang Longxi, Professor at the City University of Hong Kong, discusses World Literature and translation
The cultural activities and optional outings offered by the Institute, as well as the touching beauty of Lisbon, made this experience extremely rewarding and fun. The readings, discussions, and lectures have already helped me develop ideas and questions that I will continue exploring. Finally, the Institute has given me the opportunity to build a solid network of professors and graduate students from several cultural and academic backgrounds with whom I hope I’ll continue to be in conversation.
During the month of September, the magazine will feature a series of stories about Comp Lit graduate students’ summer research activities. See the first article below and check back for more stories throughout the month.
By: Annabel We
Early this summer, Comp Lit graduate students Jeong Eun Annabel We, Rafael Vizcaíno, and Bernabe Mendoza attended Caribbean Philosophical Association summer school. CPA hosted its inaugural summer school at University of Connecticut from May 31st to June 6th, 2015. Organized by Jane Gordon, the summer school invited senior scholars from different institutions who have won the CPA Frantz Fanon prize for their books in the past (this year’s participants were Oscar Guardiola, Paget Henry, and Drucilla Cornell). Annabel found the CPA a rewarding experience: “the CPA offered a rare, intimate setting.” Bernie agreed, saying, “the Caribbean Philosophical Association Summer School is a great and much needed risk-taking enterprise aiming, as it does, to bring together a diverse group of scholars interested in creating new avenues of knowledge outside the hegemonic, institutionalized ones. I found the discussions both in and out of the classroom intellectually stimulating and inspirational. Best of all, I found my outside readers for my dissertation–amazing scholars of color who are not in any way your conventional, clichéd academics, and who support and are wholly enthusiastic about my project. I recommend the summer school for students whose work thinks greatly outside the proverbial (philosophical) box.”
Each day of the summer school began with a seminar on a senior scholar’s pre-assigned book in the morning, followed by a lecture by the same scholar, and ended with a social activity. There were many lunches and dinners at which student participants could discuss the seminar material and their own research interests with each other and with senior scholars, as well as with other participating junior faculty members.
The summer school focused on Africana philosophy, Amerindian philosophy in the neoliberal world, challenges within Caribbean philosophy, and uBuntu, but sparked many other relevant discussions along the way. Rafael, for instance, “principally attended the CPA summer school because I wanted to establish intellectual and professional connections with some of the leading exponents of the ‘decolonial turn’ in philosophy, political, and critical theory. [Paget Henry’s] entire project is to put Africana philosophy on the table of philosophical discussion, a long and arduous project he has successfully endeavored for decades. I myself am an admirer of Henry’s critique of Jurgen Habermas (that Habermas doesn’t understand the importance of myths as knowledge-constitutive) and I would like to write a paper in the future about myth, Africana philosophy and Enrique Dussel’s philosophy of liberation. Overall, I am now more prepared to continue my own graduate scholarship at the intersection of Latin American/Caribbean and German critical social and political thought.” Annabel added, “I find that I walked away from the summer school with much more than I had initially expected. I had come to the summer school hoping to understand Caribbean philosophical discussions better, but I had come away with not (only) an area-based understanding of my research questions but clarifications and new developments of topics such as montage/mobilization, confession, stasis, and futurity, and most important, an academic community in which I would like to continue to take part.”
24: Lecture – Rita Bannerjee (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), “Translating the World: Performing the Avant-Garde in South Asian Literary Modernisms”
29: Steve Walker (Comp Lit), Brown Bag Lunch (12-1:30)
1-2: 19th Century Workshop: “Family/Law” with keynote by Janet Halley (Harvard Law)
2: A conversation with Sianne Ngai (Stanford) and Rebecca Walkowitz (English and Comp Lit): “Theory and the Job Market” (3-5, Murray 302)
13: Nicky Agate (MLA) “Web Presence” workshop for graduate students (2-4)
14: Ryan Kernan (English and Comp Lit) Brown Bag Lunch (12-1:30)
Comparative Literature students pride themselves on the study of literature in multiple languages. However, during the semester it can be a challenge to prioritize language learning. If you want to fit more language study into your schedule this semester, italki.com is truly a hidden gem for language learners.
Italki is an online language-learning community of over one million teachers and students. What makes italki unique is that it connects you with native speaker teachers around the world through one-on-one Skype lessons.
If you’ve been meaning to work on one or more languages, I encourage you to check out italki for yourself or to share it with your students. Here’s why:
The online platform
Italki.com is absolutely seamless. The process of scheduling Skype meetings, transferring payments, and evaluating lessons seems like it should be very complicated. However, italki is extremely well organized. When you want to schedule a lesson, you search for a teacher in your price range that is available when you want to study. You schedule your lesson and then connect with your teacher on skype. After the lesson is over, italki handles the payment. This website makes everything so easy that you can focus on your lessons and not have to worry about all of the logistics.
When I arrived at Rutgers, I was struggling to find ways to improve my French skills. I knew my French was too advanced for an undergraduate grammar course, but not nearly advanced enough for a graduate literature course. Many of us find that our language skills do not match up with any of our options for formal language instruction. One-on-one lessons on italki give you the flexibility to begin at your current level and focus on the specific skills that you want to develop. In my case, I found a French tutor with an interest in reading and we slowly worked our way through a few novels together. The one-on-one lessons gave me so much more feedback than I could’ve gotten in a traditional language classroom or by studying on my own. I progressed much faster than I had when I had been spending many more hours a week in a grammar class in college. Also, the commitment of talking to your teacher each week helps motivate you to continue to work independently on the language in between lessons.
A wide range of teachers
Italki has a variety of teachers with different levels of professional training, experience, and pricing. Depending on your language level, your learning style, and what skills you are working on, you can experiment with multiple teachers until you figure out what works best. There are professional teachers with a full curriculum who teach grammar and assign homework. Some of these teachers make excellent use of the video chat format by using tools like screen-sharing websites, Prezi, and the Skype chat function. There are also college students with no training in language pedagogy who will practice casual conversation with you. Since you don’t enroll in a formal course, you can experiment with a variety of teachers until you find someone who works for you. After a few lessons or a few months, you can easily start working with someone else. The flexibility lets you experience a wide variety of teaching approaches and also can expose you to different regional accents and vocabulary. Before scheduling a lesson, you can see a teacher’s profile, video introduction, and student reviews, which helps you find someone that you will enjoy working with.
Bonus: Many teachers offer half hour trial lessons for somewhere between $1 and $5. This gives you the opportunity to meet teachers, even those at a higher price point, without spending a lot up front.
Work as a tutor
If you enjoy taking lessons on italki, you can also sign up to tutor your native language or another language you speak fluently. This is an ideal work opportunity for students because you set your own hours and prices and you can work from home. You can also easily offer more sessions over breaks and fewer sessions during the busiest parts of the semester. I’ve really enjoyed talking to English students from around the world, and working on italki allowed me to fund my language lessons. Also, talking to motivated language learners helps me to continue my own language study.
Italki also offers language exchanges where two students can connect for free over Skype to practice. For example, an American and a Chinese student could meet on Skype and speak in English for a half hour and then in Chinese for a half hour. I have not used this feature, but it offers another way to use this language learning community for free.
If you like having an extra bit of accountability, italki sponsors language challenges a few times a year. For these challenges, students commit to taking a certain number of lessons in a limited time period (past challenges have included 12 hours of lessons in a month or 20 hours in six weeks). Students commit to the challenge by making a $10 pledge. If they complete the challenge, they receive $30 towards more language lessons. Every time italki announces a language challenge, a group of students commit to the challenge by making a public YouTube video demonstrating their current skill level. After the challenge, many students post videos documenting their progress. Check out these before-and-after videos from the New Year’s 2015 20-hour language challenge.
If you have any questions about italki or would like recommendations of French, Spanish, or Portuguese teachers, please be in touch.
On May 8, 2015, Comp Lit faculty and students honored graduating B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. students. Recent graduates and their families gathered to enjoy food and conversation at the end of the year celebration. Graduate Director Professor Andrew Parker and Acting Undergraduate Director Professor Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui recognized the graduating students and wished them luck in their future endeavors.