This Letter to the Editor was originally published on Monday, September 6, in The Observer
To any and all,
This is not a letter addressed to a reader with any purpose but simply a recollection of a Fulbright Fellow who arrived on campus in August to teach her native language in a foreign land. From India to Indiana, from University of Lucknow to University of Notre Dame and from an English student pursuing doctoral research in India to a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant in the United States, I am yet to explore the transitions.
I arrived in Notre Dame last month on August 17 from India as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant for Hindi language. After a cab drive from my home to my city airport, four connecting flights, another car drive from South Bend airport to Mishawaka and then to the Fischer Graduate Residences, I continue my personal transition from a English Ph.D. student in India to a Hindi FLTA in the States.
Hindi remains a “less commonly” taught language here at Notre Dame, and I was never able to meet, in person, any other Fulbright Fellow who had come to Notre Dame to teach Hindi before me, and to get to know about the presence of Hindi on campus. While the numbers and names eventually turn to anonymity unless chronicled within a literary narrative or a story, I wish that the language teaching experience here offers me a chance to explore new possibilities of building upon my personal narrative as a new and interesting beginning.
For the past five years back at my hometown Lucknow in India, I had been studying American culture during the years of my doctoral research, and now the American lands are bringing me closer to my Indian culture than ever before. As native speakers of our mother tongues, each one of us embodies the cultural impressions that transcend the lingual bounds of teaching, and learning a new language encapsulates the potencies of enhancing and diverging one’s own understanding of the dynamic intermingled worlds around us.
As India and U.S. remain two distinct and diverse cultural origins, they remain similar in being a “melting pot” of hybrid cultural forms. While the campus architecture appears different, people speak different languages and the food tastes and preferences differ, I did not find much difference between my hometown and Notre Dame in terms of intercultural diversity. As the Fulbright experience offers the dual role of a teacher and a student, I am yet to learn more about this as a student during my time here. More crucially and perhaps most informally, I am discovering the love of languages afresh here, with each day offering an opportunity to learn a new utterance that resounds the familiarity of my native language Hindi. For instance, I am learning Spanish from my neighbor Delia and last night I tried a Korean song with my flatmate Sunyoung. As a Fulbright cohort of seven Foreign Language Teaching Assistants associated with the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures this year, intercultural exchange remains an integral part of our stay here.
September 5, is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India to honor the birth anniversary of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, one of the most remarkable Indian academicians who served as the first Vice President and the Second President of India. The ‘Hindi’ within me has been a product of my family, professors and friends whom I consider my teachers in different avenues of life. I miss being in India today but at the same time, I consider this an opportunity to share my cultural identity in both my first and second languages — Hindi and English.
Hindi, my first language, has thus become closer to me in Notre Dame and the first part of my identity here. Whether or not you have heard Hindi before, whether or not you have heard of India before, whether or not you recognize one of our Bollywood movies or the greatest Hindi authors, I hope you enjoy hearing this language whenever or wherever you find a possibility. I do not wish to discover Hindi speakers or Hindi lovers at Notre Dame, but I remain hopeful of discovering the love for foreign languages and the tremendous offerings they withhold!
Amrita Sharma is a 21-22 Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant and teaches Hindi in the CLSC. Learn more about learning Hindi at https://cslc.nd.edu/services/lctl/