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Russian immersion camp returns to OCU

Oklahoma City University will host an immersion-style Russian language summer camp for high school and college students July 9-30, 2023, with pre-camp online classes starting in February. The summer camp will be followed by free Russian language classes via Zoom from August to December 2023.

The STARTALK program is free for students and is funded through a National Security Agency grant for critical languages.

Titled “Contemporary Russophone Cultures: Diversity and Community,” the nearly year-long program is designed to increase student proficiency in the Russian language and the cultures of Russia, Eurasia and Eastern Europe, program director Sabina Amanbayeva said.

“We are very excited about this opportunity to offer this camp for students in Oklahoma and beyond,” said Amanbayeva, who teaches world literature and Russian language at OCU. “Russian is considered one of the ‘critical languages’ for national security and offers employment opportunities in government, security, cultural exchange, translation and other fields. More than that, our program aims to give students a window into a different part of the world – Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and other independent republics that make up a big part of the Russian-speaking world. Especially now, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we want to use our camp as an opportunity to promote a culturally informed understanding of the region.”

The camp follows an inaugural camp at OCU that wrapped up in August 2022. The new program is open to 42 students ranging from ninth graders to college sophomores. Students from any U.S. state may apply.

Students need at least a “beginner” level in Russian to be considered for admittance. Students will be divided into three groups based on their level of proficiency, from “Novice High” to “Advanced.”

Applications are being accepted online through December at okcu.edu/artsci/departments/english. Applications will be followed by Zoom interviews and requests for recommendation letters. Amanbayeva, a native speaker of Russian originally from Kazakhstan, said she especially hopes to reach underrepresented students who may not have opportunities to study foreign languages in their schools.

During the program, students will spend three weeks in residency at OCU. They will have four hours of language instruction per day, five days a week, followed by two hours of cultural/art activities and a total of 26 hours of experiential-based learning in visual art, dance, choir and theater. They will also have career workshops led by foreign service officers in the U.S. Department of State, and a concert by Kyle Dillingham and Peter Markes, musicians who are part of the band Horseshoe Road. The Americana/country music band from Oklahoma City represented the U.S. in 41 countries, including a two-week tour through Kuwait and Kosovo.

Students will take field trips to sites in Oklahoma with Russian cultural offerings, such as Tulsa’s Philbrook Art Museum; European Store, a grocery store in Oklahoma City; the Fred Jones Museum of Art in Norman, featuring paintings by Russian artists; and others.

Before the residential portion, learners will participate in weekly “Russian café” meetings for one hour each via Zoom, from February to May 2023, during which they will meet with their language instructors and peers to develop their linguistic and cultural competence before the camp. After the camp, the “Russian café” meetings will continue weekly on Zoom, August to December. The online meetings are designed to help learners maintain connections and friendships, and a sustained interest in the post-Soviet region.

“We hope that the combination of language proficiency, increased cultural competence of a different region of the world and exposure to the college lifestyle will encourage learners to pursue higher education and intercultural experiences, such as advanced language studies and study abroad,” Amanbayeva added.

For more information, contact Amanbayeva via email at [email protected].

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