As a Slovak-American whose great grandparents were all born in Slovakia, I grew up hearing Slovak spoken by my relatives and neighbors, attending mass in Slovak, and participating in Slovak cultural events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very interested as a child in learning the language the “old timers” spoke, an attitude that I later regretted when my family traveled Slovakia when I was 13 to meet our relatives and I was unable to speak their language.
While in graduate school I had my first teaching experience in a program with many international students and international teaching assistants, which helped me to appreciate the global nature of our society and the importance of intercultural communication. In order to increase my cultural understanding, I decided to end my time as a monolingual individual by applying to study Slovak at the Summer Language Institute (SLI) at the University of Pittsburgh. My first time at SLI was in the summer of 2008 when I enrolled in their Slovak 6+4 program. This program consists of six weeks of intensive language study in Pittsburgh followed by 4 weeks of further study at Comenius University’s Modra-Harmonia language center. I was awarded a U.S. Department of Education FLAS fellowship to attend the institute.
Over the course of the next three years, I was able to attend SLI a total of three times, completing beginner through advanced levels of the Slovak language. The experience has allowed me to re connect with my family in Slovakia, and to come to a fuller appreciation for the language and culture. In the future, I hope to spend time as a visiting scholar in Slovakia.