Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 8, 2010

Students teach language and culture to campus

Even at large universities, it is uncommon to see languages such as Nepali, Albanian and Arabic listed among course offerings. This term, however, Knox students have a unique opportunity to learn all three from their fellow students.

Sophomore Kusum Hachhethu and seniors Kostanca Dhima and Bisan Battrawi will be teaching the respective languages this term as half-credit courses with satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading. Covering both language and culture, other student’s interest in learning the languages were major forces in the creation of the courses.

“I remember someone told me that some other girl was teaching it before I came here … and people asked me, they wanted me to teach it,” said Battrawi. A senior from Palestine, Battrawi has been teaching Arabic since the spring of her freshman year and has taught courses up through Introduction to Arabic IV.

Hachhethu, who is teaching Nepali for the first time this term, credits her endeavor to her own past coursework.

“Last term I took philosophy of education, and after taking the class, I was really motivated to teach something,” she said. “I felt like I would be a better educator and know … how to deal with students better and how to learn with them and provide them with an environment to learn and not just force things on them.”

Both girls found it a simple process to set up their own class. Battrawi was able to find a supervisor to sponsor her and Hachhethu had her class approved after making a syllabus and discussing her plans with Dean Lori Haslem. Director of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies Stephen Bailey agreed to act as Dhima’s advisor. For Hachhethu, the hardest part of the planning process was actually narrowing down the pool of interested students.

“I had more than 40 students wanting to take the class,” she said. “It was really hard—so many of them were people I know.” In the end, she gave preference to graduating seniors as she plans “to teach this course again next year.” Dhima had similar struggles, eventually narrowing her class down to eight students from the 35 who were interested.

Although the classes all teach both language and culture, Battrawi often tailors her courses to the interests of her current students.

“Sometimes they want to learn more of the culture than the actual language,” she said. Battrawi covers basic Arabic reading, writing and conversation. Rather than place a large emphasis on memorizing vocabulary, the introductory course focuses on establishing a strong understanding of the alphabet.

“You have to focus on the forms of the letters at first,” said Battrawi, describing the extreme difference between Arabic and Roman letters.

Hachhethu noted a similar challenge with the Nepali language.

“For [the students], writing the alphabet is like doing art,” she said. “It’s not like Spanish and French.”

Hachhethu places great importance on things beyond just the alphabet, dedicating part of each class to the culture of Nepal. She also plans to cover Hinduism—about 80% of the people in Nepal are Hindus—and even hopes to take her class to visit a Hindu temple.

“I think that people actually learn when they’re exposed to things, they’re learning by doing, by seeing, things like that,” she said.

Although teaching a language can be difficult, both Hachhethu and Battrawi praised the dedication of their students.

“The students are very motivated and they want to learn,” said Battrawi. “I think it’s a fun experience, an exchange. I learn from them and they learn from me.”

“I’d like to thank my students for showing enthusiasm,” said Hachhethu. “I didn’t expect that level of interest. They’re really putting their best and I’m really happy with the class.”

Katy Sutcliffe


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