The answers may be as personal and as diverse as individual’s own experiences, backgrounds, purpose and pathways of enhancing cultural awareness. I put the question to Mr. Faton Limani, the Administrator at the Harvard Department of Comparative Literature. He and his colleague Eva Stathi-Misho, a Harvard Student Coordinator, have a central role in the program’s launching. Mr. Limani says that the idea of introducing an Albanian class has been brewing for a while now. On the part of the Albanian Students Association (ASA), what “started with a question of why Albanian is not offered at Harvard,” says Arba Shkreli, a rising junior at Harvard College, generated the efforts that resulted with the Department of Comparative Literature responding favorably to offering it as an Elective this Fall.
“Part of setting up a new program is finding a tenure track faculty who will supervise the course,” Mr. Limani explains. The Elective class starts in September 2022 at three levels, elementary, intermediate and advanced, as previously posted https://gazetadielli.com/albanian-language-elective-course-at-harvard-university/ Whether the Department hires one or more instructors, it likely depends on the level of interest that translates into enrollment numbers for the upcoming semester. To my question about attracting non-Harvard students or availability to a wider community, Mr. Limani clarifies that “BA students from colleges and institutions affiliated with Harvard such as Tufts, MIT would be able to sign for it through “cross registration”. The advantage of offering the language class at the prestigious international education hub, says the Harvard administrator, is the magnitude of exposure it receives at the oldest US institution of higher learning with a vast student body from all corners of the world.
Learning a language other than English is regarded as “an essential component of a liberal art and sciences education”, according to the website of the Harvard College, Office of Undergraduate Education. Historically, Liberal Art colleges have deep-rooted and time-honored language requirement originating from the mandatory study of Greek and Latin. In his response to my question for comment, Professor David Damrosch, underscores the belief that the point of studying a language is to be able to enjoy the literature in that language.
“We are happy for our department to provide a location for the Albanian language course, as it didn’t find a good home otherwise within the university’s departmental structure. In our department we’ve had a number of students in recent years working in Balkan literature, and we are pleased to be able to offer Albanian. I am personally an admirer of Ismail Kadare’s novels and essays, and I hope that this course will give more students an opportunity to pursue an interest in Albanian language and literature,” writes Professor and Chair of Ernest Bernbaum and Director of Institute for World Literature at Harvard University, David Damrosch.
As to what could come of the program down the road, Mr. Limani says “There are aspirations to have an Albanian Studies Program to include History, Literature and Language.”
For Arba Shkreli, who is starting her Junior year at Harvard College studying Electrical Engineering, the Elective course of Albanian will gain momentum moving forward. At first, she remembers hearing about it circulating as more of an idea or goal, but now that “it is official”, Shkreli says that she will “be engaged with its promotion” and “believes in its success”. She recognizes the persistence of fellow undergraduates at the Albanian Student Association (ASA), who initially were asking about Albanian not being part of or included in the program at the Department of Slavic Languages, on account of the geographic criteria that is generally applied in the context of South East Europe peoples and cultures. Arba Shkreli is aware that promoting the program through students means engaging with people who never took Albanian, or feel that it is beyond their scope of interest. There is certainly an abundance of language courses available at the preeminent university. A quick internet search shows that Harvard curriculum offered about 80 languages in 2013. Speaking from personal experience, and believing in the power of numbers, the future engineer strongly advises high school graduates of Albanian American decent to apply to Harvard. She encourages them to “seriously do it” without being intimidated or demoralized by the name of the private Ivy League University. During our phone conversation, her enthusiasm and quick thinking are notable as is her sharpness. In response to Dielli’s question about considerations that would be relevant for non-Albanians to choose the Elective in the fall semester 2022, Shkreli’s answer is: “coming to Harvard implies that you are here to know things others do not. So, while there is a perfectly valid argument to study Spanish, French etc, you would be broadening your horizon immeasurably by studying Albanian. It is a big deal to take Albanian!”
There is no doubt that Dielli, the oldest circulating Albanian American newspaper is partial on the topic. In its first manifesto, Dielli’s cultural mission centered around promoting, honoring and cultivating Albanian in the United States, as an essential part of our cultural identity and nationality. The teaching of Albanian at institutions of higher learning is not only “a big deal”, it is also a proud legacy that arches back over a hundred years. Nelo Drizari, Editor of Dielli from 1937-1939, was the first Albanian graduate of Columbia School of Journalism in New York. He returned to the Ivy League school as a lecturer in Albanian which he himself introduced as part of the language program at Columbia University. His accomplishments include the launching of the Albanian Language Service at Voice of America and publication of dictionaries such as the Albanian English and English Albanian Dictionary published in 1957 with a forward by Faik Konica, an icon of Albanian culture, history as well as a co-founder of Dielli and Vatra.
To be sure there is a multitude of connections between the Pan-Albanian Federation of America Vatra, Dielli and Harvard. In a nod to the 110th year of Vatra’s founding anniversary that was celebrated on June 12 in New York, the year 2022 marks the 110th anniversary of Fan Noli’s and Faik Konica’s graduations from Harvard University, with a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Romance Languages, respectively.
For some, language knowledge means community connections, for others the pursuit of being acquainted with great Albanian writers, and in general it could be a pathway toward discoveries old and new, any one of which deserves exploring.
To start the journey, click at the link of class schedule provided by Mr. Limani https://complit.fas.harvard.edu/pages/courses
Finally, the elective course marks a new chapter for the teaching of Albanian at Harvard and the US college system in general.Appropriate for beginnings is a phrase or a word hardly in need of translation: “Me fat!” “Suksese!” – GOOD LUCK!