BALSSI 2018: Eight Great Weeks of Baltic Languages and Culture

May 10, 2019

Liina-Ly Roos, PhD, Estonian language instructor

For the third year in a row, Indiana University Summer Language Workshop hosted the Baltic Summer Language Institute (BALSSI), providing our students with a welcoming and intellectually stimulating community. The 2018 BALSSI students were very motivated learners of Estonian and Lithuanian. The Latvian course was unfortunately not offered due to low enrollments. The Estonian class had three students, who are all planning to incorporate their knowledge of Estonian language and culture in their graduate and post-graduate research. The Lithuanian class had five students, combining those who are using Lithuanian language for their graduate research and students learning more about their heritage. Their fields of specialization included education, history, and literature.

In addition to the rigorous and intensive study of language (four hours every weekday for eight weeks), we screened six films in our Baltic film series, representing different topics and visual styles of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian cinema. Our inspiring guest lecturers included Dr. Piibi-Kai Kivik discussing her research on Estonian language and identity and Dr. Liina-Ly Roos providing an introduction to the Baltic cinema. Professor Kestutis Nakas’s visit was one of the highlights.

A memento from prof. Kestutis Nakas’s talk for BALSSI students, July 20, 2018.

In addition to teaching at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Nakas is a playwright, author, director, and performer. He shared entertaining and thought-provoking experiences on growing up in the U.S. Lithuanian diaspora in his talk “Hypothetical Heritage: Creating a Mythic Lithuania in Diaspora.” The summer program also featured a roundtable with Dr. Toivo Raun and Dr. Piibi-Kai Kivik speaking on the state of the field of Baltic studies.

We were also happy to provide students with several opportunities to enjoy Baltic culture and languages in relaxed and immersive settings. Some of our students participated in the Indianapolis Estonian Society’s Midsummer celebration. The Estonian-Latvian folk band Hedgehogs, who are based in Indianapolis, performed a concert that included a wide selection of Baltic folk instruments and involved the audience in playing too! The program ended with a visit by twenty-one high school students from all three Baltic countries in Bloomington as part of the Youth Leadership Program. It was wonderful to see that, after only eight weeks of language learning, the BALSSI students were already able to interact on a basic level with native speakers over lunch.

BALSSI students making Baltic sandwiches and getting ready for a cultural showcase, July 5, 2018.

Summer 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of BALSSI and we will celebrate it with a symposium in mid-July. We invite alumni and previous instructors to join the celebration and share their current research with us at BALSSI 2019 at the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop.

 “We learned a lot about Estonia this summer, from history and etymology to food, jokes and popular music. My favorite thing was the language itself, full of surprises and delicious new words. Watching thoughtfully chosen films from all three Baltic countries, offered additional benefit and pleasure. Many thanks to the Baltic Studies Summer Institute for supporting these courses!”

“I was incredibly thankful for the chance to begin graduate-level learning of Lithuanian with BALSSI. The program not only offered in-class instruction but gave weekly opportunities to experience the culture of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. From films to folk songs to cooking class, we had the opportunity to integrate what we were learning with the people and the places at the center of the language. I feel certain that I have a more grounded understanding of the language, the people, and the area as a whole. The program is very engaging and the small classroom structure allowed me to ask questions and learn at a pace that was always pushing me, though never leaving me behind.”

2019 BALSSI will be held at Indiana University.

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