Wingate will offer Russian, Ukrainian classes

From Wingate University:

The war in Ukraine has increased the number of Ukrainians in the Charlotte region, many of them landing in Union County and southern Mecklenburg County. With a sizable Russian
population already in the area, there is a growing need for Slavic-language speakers to act as translators and intermediaries.

Wingate University is stepping in to help fill that need. In the fall of 2024, the university will offer introductory courses in Ukrainian and Russian, followed by 102-level courses in the languages in the spring of 2025.

The courses will be taught by Dr. Kateryna Decker, the university’s instructional designer.

“I’m excited that Ukrainian and Russian were approved,” she says, “because I’m Ukrainian, and with everything that’s happening with the war in Ukraine, there are so many Ukrainian people coming to North Carolina.”

Wingate will be only the second university in North Carolina to offer a course in Ukrainian for college credit.

Nearly two years ago, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden Administration implemented the Uniting for Ukraine program, which eased the path for Ukrainians to work in the U.S. At the time, the news service Axios quoted Charlotte’s International House as saying that 25,000 people from Russia called Charlotte home and that the region was home to 600,000 “Slavic-rooted people.”

In Union County Public Schools, Ukrainian and Russian speakers combined make up a little over 1% of students, the second-highest percentage of non-native English speakers in the school system. Nine Slavic churches and a handful of Slavic grocery stores serve residents of Mecklenburg and Union counties.

Students won’t be able to get jobs as interpreters after taking only a year’s worth of classes, of course, but it might spark enough of an interest that they go on to enhance their skills in the language.

At the very least, it could help people in a variety of occupations – law enforcement, healthcare, education – better communicate with Russians and Ukrainians in the area. Dr. Joseph Ellis, assistant dean of the Cannon College School of Arts and Sciences and professor of political science, says that even just generating some warmth and communicating some basic phrases can go a long way.

“If you just want to say nothing more than, ‘Hello. How are you? My name is Joseph. Where do you work?’ – those things that we all learn when we take that first semester of a foreign
language – that could be very, very useful,” he says.

“I feel that anybody who knows at least a little bit will benefit,” Decker says.

Dr. Mark Schuhl, chair of the Department of Modern Languages, says that students considering careers in diplomacy or national security could also benefit from taking Russian or Ukrainian.

Wingate offers Spanish, French, German and American Sign Language, with Spanish accounting for two-thirds of the university’s language classes. The popularity of other languages ebbs and flows; in the past, Wingate has offered Arabic and Chinese.

One section of Russian and one of Ukrainian will be offered in the fall.

“Maybe in the summer they’ll fill up and I’ll have to add another section,” Schuhl says. “I’m curious to see how many will be interested in Russian as opposed to Ukrainian. Between those two I would expect there to be some competition.”

Decker taught Russian at Appalachian State University for three years and has taught the subject at other institutions over the years as well. She says she will touch on aspects of Slavic culture in the classes, including a likely cooking demonstration.

Much of the initial course will be spent learning the Cyrillic alphabet. Decker will also concentrate on conversational language.

She says that, aside from a potential professional need, people take Russian and Ukrainian for a variety of reasons: They plan to go into the military, they want to communicate better with
family members or they were adopted from Russia and want a connection to the land of their birth.

If nothing else, it could be helpful to open students’ eyes to another culture. Decker says that being culturally aware enables people to “navigate and engage with a diverse world” and makes them better prepared for business.

“It encourages individuals to think beyond their immediate surroundings and appreciate the interconnectedness of the global community,” she says. “In a globalized workforce, cultural awareness is an asset.”