Associate Professor Alla Kourova was a fifth grader in Moscow when she heard a song that sparked her love for languages – Yesterday by the Beatles.
“From then I wanted to learn English so I could learn to sing it and play on the piano,” says Kourova, who grew up in Russia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Hungary.
Now a speaker of five languages — English, French, German, Russian and Ukrainian — Kourova has been an associate professor of Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at UCF for 12 years. She also has been teaching Russian for the past nine years.
“I really love teaching and my students. Teaching is in my blood since my mom was a home economics teacher,” Kourova says.
As International Education Week takes place Nov. 18 to 22, she reflects on her passion and profession for the past 30 years. While the general focus of Kourova’s courses is language, she incorporates culture into her lesson plans because she knows that is essential for retention of the language.
Each summer she travels with a group of UCF Abroad students to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. The students spend their mornings learning Russian and their afternoons visiting local sites such as Red Square and the emperors’ Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
During the fall and spring semesters, she hosts a connecting classrooms project between her intermediate students and students in Russia. They email each other and Skype once a month to discuss a given topic, such as their backgrounds or schools. Kourova says interacting with their peers allows her students to learn Russian language and culture better and develop friendships that last long after they’ve earned their degrees.
“Not all of my American students can go with me on study abroad trips, so I think this type of communication is important,” Kourova says. “They can see that Russian students are the same. They have the same ambitions in life and interests. People are people everywhere.”
To emphasize that sentiment, Kourova will host a Russian Culture Night on Monday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. for faculty members in Room 205 of Classroom Building I. Those in attendance will learn more about classical music styles in Russia, while enjoying traditional food and a violin concert.
On the same day, the Russian-American Student Association, for which Kourova is the faculty advisor, will also host several events to increase cultural awareness about the country. The organization is mainly made up of American students who want to learn more about Russia, but its president, biomedical sciences major Alesia Lokshina is one of several members native to the country.
During the international breakfast at 8 a.m., students in the association and organizations from other countries will discuss their cultures in the Pegasus Ballroom of the Student Union.
At 4 p.m., the group will host an event they typically put together biweekly for members, a discussion panel in Room 358B of Trevor Colbourn Hall. This panel usually focuses on a topic specific to Russia or America, but this meeting will feature students across different cultures to discuss how to improve communication. They will also host a Russian ethnic-groups presentation at 5 p.m. in Room 223 of the Student Union.
Whenever Lokshina needs advice on topics for these panels and other meetings, she says she can always go to Kourova. The professor often helps with language-based questions in the group and also hosts a Russian Tea Hour once a month, which is open to all UCF students and aims to expose them to different aspects of culture and food.
“Dr. K is nice, kind and understanding,” Lokshina says. “She cares about all her students and members in the organization. She is strict, but it’s because she really cares. She tries to make people do better, so she asks a lot of them.”
Kourova, who studied at Moscow State University and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Montana, understands first-hand the high demands and struggles students may face with studying languages and cultures. While at UM, she learned new research methods that used computer data and published a book on the difference between Russian and American education systems. She also visited UCF for a language conference.
“Since that time it was my dream to live in Florida and teach at UCF because I was impressed by the university, the students and professors I met,” Kourova says. “I think I’m really blessed to have a really great group of people working with me.”
a href=”https://global.ucf.edu/resources/iew/”>Learn more about International Education Week and related campus events.