Esperanto course in the city that never sleeps

Students at Macaulay / CUNY Program, 2015

A quite extraordinary Esperanto course took place this year in New York City. 12 outstanding students from the City University of New York (CUNY), Macaulay Honors College (where the top 0.33% of the university’s students study) took part in a 10-day direct method Esperanto course in May and June 2015. The course was organized by Dr. Esther Schor: writer, poet, professor at Princeton University and ESF Advisory Board member, and the course was taught by Bill Maxey.

This initiative had three main goals: find a way to build interest among some of NY’s brightest youth in language issues at UN headquarters, arouse curiosity about Esperanto in anticipation of the publication of Esther Schor’s book, Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language, and, finally, bring together the brightest students in the college to work together. The course itself sought to demonstrate to participants that Esperanto is an actual and useful language, disabuse them of negative assumptions about the language and its speakers, familiarize them with the structural elements and flexibility of the language, demonstrate that Esperanto has its own culture and community, and arouse interest in further study and membership in the community.

Of 36 candidates, the 12 most qualified students were chosen for their academic achievements, charitable work, interests (international studies, human rights, linguistics, language, literature) and the potential to become influential in their fields. The chosen students received a small stipend from ESF, with the understanding that students would prepare in advance and would attend at least 9 out of 10 sessions. The course was conducted exclusively in Esperanto. Its main topics were global issues, the students’ city (NY), and the life experiences and interests of the participants. Among visitors to the course were former UEA and ESF president, writer and professor Dr. Humphrey Tonkin, the acclaimed film director Sam Green (The Universal Language), and poet and publisher Ulrich Becker. The students also had the opportunity to speak with young Esperanto speakers around the world using Skype.

All the participants without exception highly praised Lernu (“great”, “very helpful”, “extremely helpful”, “super-helpful”, “unbelievably helpful”, “fantastic resource”), and special guests were greatly appreciated: according to one participant, the special guests “gave the course a human dimension and proved that Esperanto is living and global”. The students enjoyed being able to hear the language, poems, the informal course structure, the attention paid to their interests and opinions, the diversity of topics and the fully Esperanto atmosphere. “Little by little I fell in love with Esperanto and also felt inclined to support the Esperanto movement” wrote one of the students.

UEA president and ESF Board member Mark Fettes presented this course during the “Tago de Lernado” (“Day of Learning”) during this year’s World Esperanto Congress in Lille, France.

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