A recent email announcing the departure of Chester Gillis as dean of the Georgetown College lists an impressive number of new minors and majors that were instituted during his tenure, including African American studies, justice and peace studies, journalism and business administration, to name a few.
Yet, it seems that there is a constant demand for new academic programs at Georgetown, and this is especially the case with languages.
Though some languages, such as Arabic, are taught at Georgetown, they may exclude the possibility of taking classes in regional Arabic. Other languages, such as Hindi, are unavailable altogether. At a university that prides itself on the quality of its language programs, student frustration at insufficient program offerings is more than understandable.
University administrators often point to a lack of funds as the reason for the absence of such programs and the resistance to establishing them in the future. The College’s move to increase the required minimum for class enrollment is just one of the reactions of the administration against such budget cuts. Recent conversation alludes to the possible creation of an engineering program at Georgetown, but with the emphasized caveat that this will only take place very far in the future.
What are the options for students who seek ways to learn languages outside the class structure?
Language practice hours, often sponsored by language departments and clubs, are a crucial and well-frequented outlet for language practice. Unfortunately, some languages have these meetings more regularly than others, and less-popular languages may not have such opportunities at all. Another drawback is the limitation of only practicing one language; as a former student of both French and Spanish, my ideal language partner would be well-versed in both languages.
It was not until I went abroad that I was able to conceptualize a solution, to realize what I thought Georgetown had been missing. During my fall semester at the University of Edinburgh, I was introduced to a program called Tandem, which pairs students together based on their language-learning goals. Any students wanting to learn a language and willing to practice their own native/fluent language with partners could do so in an informal yet instructive setting merely by posting their interests on Facebook. I was fully ready to take advantage of this system until I became annoyed by the constant posts, sometimes every hour, from one of the thousands of members in the group.
Upon returning to Georgetown, one of my first goals was to establish such a program here, if it did not already exist, and to correct some of the logistical deficiencies that had discouraged my own participation. However, a quick Google search introduced me to the Georgetown University Language Exchange Program, housed in the Office of Global Services. It only takes a two-minute form to lead you to a systematized, organized site that lists all the possible language pairings in which students can participate.
Although I am currently able to take Spanish classes, as a government and history double major, next year I have no available electives. Despite some feeble attempts to practice Spanish with friends who are native speakers, I know that even a semester without regular, comprehensive language practice will degrade any skills or fluency I have been able to acquire. LEP can be a resource for students like me who seek to maintain or improve language fluency outside the classroom.
Considering the limited funds of the Georgetown administration, the creation of new language programs in the immediate future seems unlikely. With this in mind, it is up to students to fill in the gaps. Georgetown students are entrepreneurs, journalists, government employees, artists, leaders of clubs and heads of nonprofits. Above all, however, we are students. I see an unseized opportunity for students to apply the innovation and creativity they exude in other areas of their lives to academics.
LEP is only one example of ways students can engage in their classrooms without millions of dollars in donations from alumni. A simple Google search could be all it takes. Whether it involves joining the GUSA Academic Affairs team, petitioning to create a unique major or inviting groundbreaking professors to speak on campus, I urge all students to take greater control of their transcripts, even if that means throwing them out the window.
Casey Nolan is a junior in the College.
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