Global Languages and Area Studies Major Emphasizes Cultural Competency Alongside Language Proficiency

The College of Arts and Sciences welcomes its new Global Languages and Area Studies (GLAS) undergraduate major beginning in the 2019/2020 Academic Year. This innovative program is an umbrella major for some of The University of Rhode Island’s smaller language programs: Arabic, Japanese, and Classical Studies (which encompasses both Ancient Greek and Latin). GLAS provides flexible pathways through which students can gain competency in a language while immersing themselves in area studies coursework, including culture, history, mythology, art, politics, and more.

Dr. Daniel Carpenter, teaching professor of Classical Studies, and Dr. Alexander Magidow, assistant professor of Arabic, have designed and championed the GLAS program, which is part of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. Magidow also serves as GLAS’s Section Head. GLAS’s unique model is inspired by student demands for more integrative, culturally salient coursework. “It is valuable and necessary to have an opportunity to take cross-disciplinary classes that teach students about culture in addition to language,” Magidow says. “Understanding the culture is necessary for understanding the language,” Carpenter adds. “For instance, it can be really hard to develop a deep understanding of ancient civilization and culture with only language courses. This sets GLAS apart in a significant way.”

As a result, GLAS requires students to complete four semesters of language study at minimum, in addition to area studies courses that correspond to that language. Students from all of the programs’ three tracks will take two courses—one in their first year and another in their last—together as a cohort. “It is helpful to consider these ways of thinking about the world early on,” Magidow says of these program-wide, collaborative courses. “Most of us coming from a U.S. education system start with zero, sometimes less than zero, knowledge of the Middle East, Japan, or Classics. For instance, we may have a particular viewpoint of the Middle East, which we can work to overcome through area studies and through studying Arabic. This is absolutely vital.”

Students who complete the program will gain immersive knowledge of their area of focus, complemented by the ability to apply their ideas theoretically and practically. This is especially marketable and valuable for those seeking careers in such fields as international business, politics, and diplomacy. “Proficiency in the language is important,” Carpenter stresses, “but it is important to realize that we are multiplying the value of the language classes through the cultural and area studies focused classes. There is more to these civilizations and cultures than achieving competency in the language.” GLAS is uniquely designed to capture that complexity and foster empathy, engagement, and cultural proficiency within its students.

~Written by Aria Mia Loberti, Communication Studies, Philosophy, and Political Science triple major