From Austin to Lucknow to Washington, D.C.: Reflections on Language Training from AIIS Language Fellow Charlotte Giles

Three women sitting in front of UP Mango festival sign

Charlotte Giles (right) attending the Uttar Pradesh Mango Festival while on an AIIS Language Fellowship Program.

It’s strange to think that I have been associated with AIIS for over ten years because every time I return to the campus in Lucknow, I continue to be schooled. It makes me wish that I could simply go back for another academic year program or two. I practically grew up in Lucknow with the teachers and my beloved host mother who passed away before she could see what her hard efforts had wrought.

I began my Urdu training with AIIS in 2008 as a second-year at Hampshire College.  That work has let me to my current position at The Library of Congress as a South Asia Reference Librarian, specializing in Urdu and Islam in South Asia. I recently returned from my fieldwork in Lucknow on the changing landscape of the embroidery industry, funded by Fulbright, and am writing my dissertation during my off hours. My work at The Library of Congress is very much related to the training I received during the five AIIS programs (summer, fall, and academic year) I completed in Lucknow.

I see language training as something that you have to be all in for it to succeed, especially as AIIS programs go. You undergo training not just in grammar and vocabulary, but the socio-cultural and historical foundation of that linguistic tradition. Such a thorough program encourages its students to develop themselves in multiple directions, allowing them to direct that training to whatever their career path may be.

I am split between the academic and non-academic. I am still very much in love with my doctoral research and therefore plan to pursue that regardless of my institution affiliation, or rather, lack thereof. I tried to prepare myself for a not purely academic career by working in the library at the University of Texas. I have seen other graduate students do the same by working with international offices on campuses or other campus organizations focusing on international education. This has proved fruitful for me and I see my language training at AIIS and UT Austin with Syed Akbar Hyder as crucial to my success.

My training, prior to AIIS, consisted of doing an independent study, reading a less-than-useful Urdu training book. My training did not truly begin until I went to India. Throwing myself fully into the program, often times as a less than willing participant, altered the way I thought about not just language learning but about how I learn. Time spent abroad has been for me time well spent. The environment in the institute is one in which I felt that it would be better to speak and make mistakes than to not talk at all. Beyond the walls of the institute, the place that I learned the most was from the hearth of my host mother. The importance of language training abroad cannot be understated during which time such relationships can be built, expanding the breadth and depth of your communication skills.

Currently, as I work in the Asian Division of The Library of Congress. I am also a PhD Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. I completed my MA in Asian Cultures and Languages at UT Austin. 

Learn more about AIIS Language Programs.