Susan Irungu

Susan Irungu (right) goes over a Swahili lesson with student Sam Parks.


Swahili teacher brings East Africa to BGSU

Africana Studies students have the opportunity for the first time this year to study Swahili, thanks to Susan Muthoni Irungu, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Kenya.

Irungu taught a beginning class in Swahili fall semester that she is continuing this semester in addition to a second beginner class. Of the six students in the first class, she said, ”They’re doing well. It’s very surprising how good they are.”

Sam Parks, a junior from Smithville majoring in international studies, said of Irungu, “She’s a great teacher and a lot of fun. I was really excited that our Swahili teacher is actually from Africa so we get the true Kenyan accent.

“There are a lot of opportunities to speak Swahili on campus,” he added, due to the considerable community of Kenyan students and faculty at BGSU.

Having Irungu here “adds an East African component to our program, both in language and culture,” said Dr. Lillian Ashcraft-Eason, Africana Studies Program director. “We’ve had more of a West African influence before.”

A reflection of the various colonial powers once on the continent, Swahili is a mix of about 50 percent Arabic words with elements of Portuguese, Spanish and English.

“Swahili is spoken in quite a number of countries, and it’s continuing to expand,” Irungu explained. “It’s been in the East and now is in the West and is even expanding to the South. There is a movement to adopt Swahili as a ‘national language’ for the continent.”

Irungu, whose first language is Kikuyu, studied English and Swahili from elementary school on. Before coming to BGSU, she was the Swahili editor for Macmillan Publishers in Nairobi.

As a student at Moi University, she majored in languages with an emphasis in Swahili. It was her former dean, with whom she kept in touch after graduation, who encouraged her to apply for the Fulbright position.

The competition was intense. Irungu was one of only four people chosen from the 2,000 who applied. “The elimination process was quite rigorous,” she said.

The other three Fulbright language teachers are at Brown University and the universities of Massachusetts and Missouri.

Irungu says she has been happily surprised by BGSU. “My experience has been different from what I expected. When you are coming to the United States, they warn you that you will experience culture shock, but everyone has been so friendly that I immediately felt so at home. The environment is very hospitable. It was a good start.“

So good, in fact, that she is applying to graduate school at BGSU in rehabilitation counseling, which is not offered at Kenyan universities. Irungu, who has previously worked in AIDS education in her home country, added, “I have a keen interest in programs that provide community services, in addition to the languages and publishing industry.”
January 23, 2006