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UM Hindi Students Are Few, But Their Interest Is Deep

Surbhi Jain is teaching the beginning and intermediate Hindi classes at UM this year. Brandon Fullbrook pictured front right. Adelheid Cassidy, rear left.
Edward O'Brien
Surbhi Jain is teaching the beginning and intermediate Hindi classes at UM this year. Brandon Fullbrook pictured front right. Adelheid Cassidy, rear left.

Only five students are taking the University of Montana’s intermediate Hindi language class. Three others are in the beginning section.

UM says the Hindi program and others like it are helping prepare its students to become engaged global citizens.

What the Hindi students lack in numbers, they more than make up for with their engagement and enthusiasm:

This marks the second year Hindi has been taught at the University of Montana.

UM is one of only four universities in the nation to which the Fullbright Educational Exchange program has allotted Hindi instructors from India. Ruth Vanita led the charge for the Fulbright partnership.

Vanita directs both UM’s Liberal Studies and South and Southeast Asia Studies programs:

"Hindi has been declared one of the critical languages by the U.S State Department. I think jobs will open up/are opening up for translating from Hindi. Hindi is the third most widely spoken language in the world. So, Hindi is a very important language which is not taught enough. There are a lot of possibilities in Hindi for, say, if you are a business major or a journalism major – it’s very useful to know Hindi if you go to India."

Fulbright Fellow Surbhi Jain is teaching the beginning and intermediate Hindi classes at UM this year.

The 25-year-old is from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Jain’s father served in the Indian Air Force, which means Jain’s family was constantly moving. She’s lived all over India and describes it as an incredibly diverse nation.

“Mostly in India you say “Unity in Diversity." As you move you find lots of differences in people’s culture and their language. That’s very, very rare – and very precious to India.”

Jain says her students seem genuinely excited to learn more about India and Hindi:

"They want to travel to India. All of them have this vision that, 'We are going to India some day and that’s why we’re learning the language.' That’s really exciting because that bring a passion in them that they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to speak. The enthusiasm which we have in our students is really nice."

"My name is Brandon Fullbrook. In this class and among the Indian community I usually go by Keshav."

Fullbrook – or Keshav — says he’s always been fascinated by world culture and religions.

He’s particularly intrigued by the Hindu faith which he credits with enriching his life.

Fullbrook is grateful the University of Montana offers him an opportunity to study Hindi, a language he says he’s passionate about.

"It’s something that I enjoy spending a lot of time on, and a lot of time trying to figure out, work on and perfect to the best of my ability. With the goal of going to India one day - English is very prevalent there – but being able to step outside of that and take a step deeper into the local culture there in many regions, I think Hindi would be essential for that."

Adelheid Cassidy agrees. The 24-year-old University of Montana psychology major hopes to one-day work overseas – perhaps somewhere in Southeast Asia.

"I’m particularly interested in human trafficking. There’s certainly a lot of it that goes on in the United States, but it’s a global phenomenon. It’s certainly an issue in southeast Asia. That’s why I’m gravitating towards that area."

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom acknowledged in his State of the University address last month that the school will focus more on specific job training programs.

At the same time, he reasserted the importance of liberal arts and sciences:

"Those disciplines will remain at our core and they will be the focus of continual intense investigation and intense development as we go forward."

Liberal Studies Director Ruth Vanita says a Hindi course dovetails perfectly with those stated mission goals.

"A liberal arts education gives you a general base of knowledge about the world, particularly in our program where we teach both Asia and Europe. That’s an invaluable knowledge base which you can use in anything; say if you’re working in global health, or whatever you may be working in. I also argue that you get a particular kind of joy from reading and art and literature that you don’t get anywhere else that stands you in very good stead throughout your life."

Hindi student Adelheid Cassidy is glad UM now has more language studies classes than ever before:

"Other than German or French or Spanish. I think we need to have more options because the world is very big, and to have the option to be like, ‘Oh, I get to learn Hindi or I get to learn Mandarin or Japanese.’ These are all very important places in the world and I think their languages should be known."

Professor Surbhi Jain will be teaching beginning and intermediate Hindi though spring semester. Ruth Vanita hopes word of mouth will spread about the Hindi course.

She says declining enrollment throughout UM – the College of Humanities and Sciences in particular – has contributed to the particularly small class sizes this semester.

She’d like to see 10 to 12 students in both the beginning and intermediate courses.

Vanita says once more students find out that the U.S. government is eager to hire people who speak critical languages, of which Hindi is one, she thinks interest in the courses will grow.

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