'Separated in Flesh, Together in Spirit'

August 12, 2020
German Qur'an
Though SLP 2020 was held exclusively online, students were able to examine digital copies of historical texts, such as this German translation of the Qur'an. / Photo: Jonathan Beasley

One of the added benefits of this year's Summer Language Program (SLP) being held exclusively online due to the worldwide pandemic was that it became relatively easy for special guests to join class sessions. 

For example, in Karin Grundler-Whitacre's "Theological German" course, visiting speakers joined the students nearly every session to speak about a particular area of their expertise. But the most surprising visiting guest, and certainly the youngest, was the brand new baby of a student in James Skedros's class, "Elementary New Testament Greek."

According to Skedros, the student, who was taking the course as a member of the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium, gave birth to a healthy girl, Heloise, during week five and only missed one day of class. She even joined the class from the birthing room at Tufts Medical Center while she was in the very early stages of labor, and baby Heloise rested in her bassinet next to mom during the remaining classes.

Though such a classroom experience is incredibly unique, what's not uncommon is the benefit taking an SLP course can have on a student's academic career. Many former SLP participants have commented that taking a class in the SLP and getting an early start was one of the best things they did at the beginning of their careers at HDS or the BTI Consortium. (More background: A Snapshot of the HDS Summer Language Program)

And this year, despite the transition to online-only learning, the SLP had 120 enrolled students from all over the globe—a record for the program. In fact, interest was so high that every course had to be waitlisted and a second section of "Classical Arabic" was added.

“The Summer Language Program remains a vital part of the overall curricular offerings for HDS students, at both master’s and doctoral levels,” says Grundler-Whitacre. “We were very happy with the increased, online demand and hope to build on our online presence in future years.” 

HDS communications reached out to two students and two instructors to find out more about their experiences, predictable challenges, and some surprising benefits of remote learning and teaching during SLP 2020. Below are their thoughts.

HDS student Madeline Jeanne Levy studying GermanMadeline Jeanne Levy, MTS candidate - Theological German

My silver-lining of the online HDS Summer Language Program is being able to spend the summer in my hometown. My father took German in college, and we’ve had fun quizzing each other on vocab. Classes themselves have provided a welcome structure to my days and are filled with interesting texts.

Because classes were online, people from all over the globe are able to join us for supplementary visits; for instance, we spoke with a professor at a German university who kindly stayed up late to answer our questions about studying and teaching in Germany!

James Skedros, Instructor in Elementary New Testament Greek

Greek Codex from British Library
James Skedros, bottom right corner, leads a course session about the history of the Greek language.

Breakout rooms on Zoom have proven to be extremely beneficial. First, they allow students the opportunity to work on a grammatical issue or a translation with the aid of a fellow student and not in the presence of the entire class and the instructor. This allows for peer learning and eases the stress of being put on the spot in front of the entire class and the instructor.

Second, the breakout rooms have allowed students the opportunity to get to know others in the class. I have done breakout groups with no more than three people in each group...preferably two students. Finally, being online has now broken down any barriers of limiting my access to students who need extra help.

Malini Srikrishna, MTS candidate - Theological Spanish

The Summer Language Program has been a wonderful opportunity to spend time with my classmates, returning and incoming, during this tumultuous time. Despite being separated in flesh, our work brought us together in spirit. Interestingly, most people in our class were only able to make it because it was online. It is especially during the breakout rooms that we spent time with each other, intimately engaging with texts and all they reflect of our lives.

Beatrice Chrystall reading in her gardenBeatrice Chrystall, Lecturer in Pali 

Teaching the SLP remotely has been quite an experience. I was worried we wouldn't develop our usual camaraderie, not being together physically or even sharing the same time of day. I could start the class saying, "Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening!" We had someone in Arizona, in Michigan—then Mexico, in Florida and even in China!

So, while, for me, the class lasted from 12:30 to 3.30 pm, for one student it ran from 12:30 to 3:30 through the night! Nonetheless, we all made concerted efforts to reach across the divide. My happiest moment was when, as I stepped away from the computer to get a book, I heard one student say to the others, "It's nice how we've all bonded, isn't it?"

Learn more about the Summer Language Program courses, fees, hours, and application process. The SLP is open to all college and university students and is tuition-free for full-time HDS degree candidates, including incoming first-year HDS students.