Kenyan native and Swahili Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Caroline Jepchumba Kipruto is an exemplary representative of her community, Eldoret. Located in the western region of Kenya near the Great Rift Valley, Eldoret is famous for a large number of world-class track and field athletes like Eliud Kipchoge who is Olympic champion is marathon runner and world record holder. With its temperate climate, fertile soil, and abundant water resources, Eldoret is also a thriving agricultural hub and an important center of commerce and trade. A sister city to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Eldoret is home to several notable universities and research institutions such as Moi University. During our interview, Caroline passionately spoke of many other aspects of the culture that are often overshadowed by the athletic feats of the region, and proudly spoke of the Kalenjin people, of which she is a member.
By learning Swahiili - or any new language - students can reveal a window to peer into a new culture and way of looking at the world, a skill that is invaluable in today’s world. - Caroline Kipruto
The Kalenjin people are the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya, and they have a long history of oral storytelling, music, and dance, which are often showcased during traditional events. These cultural events range from marriage ceremonies to harvest festivals, providing opportunities for communal connection and a celebration of their heritage. The shared culture of eight ethnic groups that form the Kalenjin people is not only characterized by their strong traditions and cultural heritage, but also by tight-knit communities, strong spiritual beliefs, and a deep respect for nature and the environment.
Her community was not the only strong influence Caroline experienced. She was also surrounded by books as a young child. Her father, William Cholal, is a teacher who brought books home from school to read with her. This helped to ingrain the importance of an education and provided the foundation on which Caroline has built her entire academic career. She has a strong passion for the arts, which did not go unnoticed in school. With the encouragement of teachers, Caroline pursued English studies.
Eventually she received a government scholarship to study education, English, and literature at Pwani University in Mombasa. Her background in education and English soon led her to teaching at Lake Bogoria Girls School, Bright Hope Secondary School, and Moi University High School, all school’s in her region of Kenya. Her path led her to apply for the Fulbright FLTA program, and now she is here at the University of Notre Dame sharing her culture with students, faculty and staff.
Be flexible, keep an open mind, and most importantly, try your best not to get discouraged - positivity is the most important ingredient in mastering a new language! - Caroline Kipruto
As an FLTA, Caroline is the instructor for Swahili, teaching Beginning Swahili I and II, as well as Intermediate Swahili I and II. Additionally, she works as a tutor at the CSLC to help students outside of the classroom. She does cultural presentations and workshops, and takes enormous pride in teaching her native tongue and educating others about her culture. But all of this dedication to teaching hasn’t stopped her from engaging in other ways with the Notre Dame community. Outside of her work in teaching Swahili, Caroline has taken classes in foreign language teaching methods, as well as French. She also attends events, travels throughout the United States, and spends time with other Kenyans she has met at Notre Dame. She particularly enjoys participating in the African Graduate Club events and meetings, and spending time with her fellow FLTAs.
Caroline had no shortage of praise for the act of learning a second language. For her, learning a new language created new opportunities for travel and employment, as it enabled her to find a new passion in teaching and ultimately led her to the Fulbright program. Additionally, she sees an abundance of opportunities for American students studying Swahili in Kenya, whether a student simply wishes to travel or engage more intensely with Kenyan culture and find employment there. Caroline stated that "by learning Swahili - or any new language - students can reveal a window to peer into a new culture and way of looking at the world, a skill that is invaluable in today’s world".
While Caroline’s enthusiasm for language learning is not surprising, she was also candid about its difficulties. She was quick to point out that many students may struggle in learning a new language. However, the importance of a positive attitude and finding ways to keep motivation high is of the utmost importance on the road to fluency. She made a point that students should "be flexible, keep an open mind, and most importantly, try your best not to get discouraged - positivity is the most important ingredient in mastering a new language!" The benefits of learning a new language and about a new culture far outweigh any challenges.
And Caroline is a perfect example of those benefits.
About the CSLC
The CSLC is dedicated to the advancement of linguistic proficiency and cultural awareness for students, staff, faculty, and spouses in all languages across the Notre Dame community. If you would like to learn more about studying Swahli, other languages and cultures, Fulbright programs for Notre Dame Students, or cultural events sponsored by the many groups at Notre Dame, visit the CSLC website, or call (574) 631-5881.
Luke Van de Walle (‘24) is a political science and global affairs major who specializes in current event writing and conducting interviews.
Featured image photographed by Lena Shadow ('24), a sociology and global affairs major who specializes in media production, photography, and editing.