In a crowded classroom adorned with maps and flags of Russia, approximately 60 students gathered Friday to finish a class they started just three weeks prior.
STARTALK, an immersive language program native to the University of Maryland, is an abbreviation of the phrase “start talking.” It is overseen by the National Security Agency.
College of Arts and Humanities professor Dr. Alla Kourova submitted a grant application to jumpstart the workshop at the University of Central Florida.
“This is our second year with this grant to do classes, and only 13 universities in the whole country get this grant,” Kourova said.
The Russian language and culture class has just ended for summer 2016.
It focuses on beginner-to-advanced Russian language, with a large emphasis on Russian culture. Complimentary lunch is provided every class from Lakomka on Goldenrod. After lunch, there are two hours dedicated to studying Russian culture through history, fashion and food.
For many students, these free classes are paving a path within their studies.
“I had no background in the Russian language or culture, and I was an undeclared major. Last year I did fall and spring in beginner classes (of Russian language), and then I studied abroad this summer and now I T.A.,” said senior Marissa Hall.
Today, Hall is expected to graduate spring of 2017 with a major in international relations and a minor in Russian.
To celebrate the graduation of all 60 students, Lakomka prepared rice, beet salad and a cake. Flowers, gift bags and Russian candy treats were handed out by teachers to students as a congratulations for finishing the three-week program.
“My goal is to expand more classes, especially advanced classes. I would love to have someone to teach Russian literature. I would love to just see more,” Kourova said.
As for now, students are soaking up every bit of Russian culture and language they can from the university.
“I took one year of Dr. K’s Russian language class, as well as two of the summer STARTALK classes. It has definitely shaped me. The way you have to force yourself to think is challenging. Understanding a different language will help you understand the culture of it, and vice versa,” said senior Jake Cranmer.
Cranmer wants to continue learning about Russia and plans to take two more of Kourova’s Russian language classes before he graduates.
Kourova intends to continue the STARTALK program at UCF as long as her requests for grants are approved by UMD's National Foreign Language Center.
She remains the only professor at UCF teaching Russian.
Story originally published on July 31, 2016.