Student-led Swahili lessons help represent global student organization

“Hakuna Matata.”

Remember the phrase from the popular song in the Disney movie “The Lion King?” Hakuna Matata means “no worries,” Rafiki, the name of the babboon, means friend, and Simba translates to “lion.” All three words are from Swahili, a language spoken mainly in East Africa, including Kenya, where the movie takes place. Victor Samoei, also from Kenya, features these words, and more, in his Swahili language classes.

Samoei, a mechanical engineering major at UAA, hosted four classes teaching the language of his birth country throughout the month of October. He educated his class on basic salamu, or greetings; numbers; days of the week; animals and other useful phrases, including ndio, meaning “yes,” and jina langu, meaning “my name is.”

Dalton Shafer, journalism major and student of Samoei’s, thoroughly enjoyed his classes and would “absolutely take another.”

“I really enjoy languages because once you get a firm basis of one, then it becomes easier to interpret and pronounce others as a whole,” Shafer said.

Shafer felt Samoei did well teaching the class, considering both teaching and learning a new language proves difficult.

Although it wasn’t his first teaching experience in Swahili, Samoei faced a few of these challenges.

“Swahili has complex grammar,” Samoei said. “There are so many things to teach, and it can be confusing finding the core things that people want to hear… and I tried to balance all of those without being vague.”

Despite the obstacles faced by anyone trying to instruct a language class, Samoei felt he was successful in sharing the culture.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Daniel Carson, mechanical engineering major, attended all of Samoei’s classes, and felt it helped prepare him for his 2018 trip to Kenya. He remembered words such as jambo, or hello; asante, or thank you; and karibu, or welcome.

Samoei learned useful teaching tips based on feedback from a previous student, who found that when actually in a situation of using the language, the basics prove far more important than grammar rules.

“When you’re speaking, you’re not going to be thinking about the tense of the word, you’re just going to say it,” Samoei said.

Samoei felt the best way of learning was a little at a time, and his students found success in the basics of the language through the songs and videos he presented.

This class was just one of many that are hosted by members of the United Global Student Organization, a student-run group that celebrates unity and diversity on campus. The UGSO also hosts events and activities such as student presentations, potlucks, documentaries and other language classes, including Mongolian, Pakistani and Nigerian.

The UGSO also provides an excellent resource in beginning of the semester services for new international students. This includes accompanying students to orientation and the international students exchange, directing them to departments and housing and giving tours of Anchorage’s bus routes and schedules. They also help educate students on the norms and customs of the United States, as such things can vary greatly from country to country.

An event coming up in the UGSO’s schedule is their Thanksgiving dinner. The gathering, partnered with the Multicultural Center, will take place on Nov. 19, and give an opportunity for students and faculty alike to celebrate the holiday together.

Saijd Raza, vice president of the UGSO and civil engineering major, says the dinner benefits the organization because “local students celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, but international students don’t have families here.”

This is an example of the UGSO achieving one of their goals, fostering a sense of unity.

“Our vision is to create a safe environment for international and American students to come together and share ideas… and by doing so we like to promote diversity,” Munkh-Urguu Enkhbold, a business management major and the president of the UGSO, said.

The UGSO at UAA was officially formed and named in 2015, after years of being an on and off international student club. Ran by students such as Enkhbold, Raza and Samoei, the organization meets every Thursday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Student Union. Anyone is welcome to attend.

These meetings are “a good opportunity for networking,” Raza said. “If a student wants to study abroad, they can study with us and make friends.”

He says that having someone to help you navigate a new country makes the experience less stressful and worrisome. The UGSO has a wide variety of diverse members, who can educate other students on cultural aspects such as language and food.

“I think our student organization is a wonderful resource for students thinking about studying overseas,” Enkbold said. “Getting to know people through school is credible and reliable… and creates a better understanding.”

The UGSO provides what Enkhbold refers to as “a smooth transition” for international and American students alike through their educational and interactive services. It promotes diversity and unity in a safe place, while creating lifelong friendships in the process.

Be sure to look out for upcoming USGO language classes, including Bengali and Japanese.