Lydia Odegard

Major(s) and Certificate(s):

Languages and Cultures of Asia and Gender and Women’s Studies; Certificate in South Asian Studies

Graduation Year:
Current city:
What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?:

After graduating, I moved to Jaipur, India and studied Hindi for a semester at the American Institute of Indian Studies. I then returned to Madison and worked as a Hindi teaching assistant for the summer on the UW-Madison campus at the South Asian Summer Language Institute. Currently, I work for a company that converts international education credentials to their U.S. equivalent for individuals who were educated abroad, and also in the UW Office of Admissions and Recruitment reviewing international student applications.

What motivated you to study this/these languages?:

I spent a gap year in India before beginning my undergrad at UW-Madison, studying Hindi independently while practicing speaking every day with my hostfamily. I realized as a freshman at UW that this university had a reputation for a strong South Asian Studies program, and continued my Hindi study withthe support of excellent instructors. I also took a semester of Spanish to earn retrocredits.

How have these languages enriched your life?:

Learning Hindi has changed the course of my life drastically. What started as a side hobby has now become an integral part of my personal and professional life. Not only has it allowed me to connect on a deeper level to and gain more appreciation for South Asian cultures, but it has also led me to unique professional opportunities and has ultimately changed my career goals. As I begin to navigate the field of international education, I have realized that knowing Hindi has already proven to be a unique skill set. I hope to use my experience with Hindi and South Asia as a tool to encourage further learning about and educational exchange with South Asia and, more generally, as an example of how language study can enhance one’s life.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?:

My Hindi classes were small, so I quickly formed strong friendships with my classmates and a tight-knit community of Hindi language learners throughout my undergraduate career, which I have maintained post-graduation. The small class sizes also provided opportunities for individualized learning and plenty of speaking practice.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?:

 In 2014 I studied abroad in Varanasi, India for a semester. Without knowing Hindi, I simply would not have learned as much about Indian culture and traditions, nor would I have connected with people on the same level as I was able to during my time abroad. Since Hindi is a less-commonly learned language, locals were intrigued with my language skills, and this intrigue often led to conversations and oftentimes an “in” with certain communities.Additionally, some members of my host family did not speak English, so I was able to both connect with them on a deeper level and improve my language skills. Another component of my program was a fieldwork project. While completing my research, I conducted interviews and focus groups in Hindi, which granted me access to insights and perspectives I would not otherwise have.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?:

 I have taught at UW-Madison’s South Asian Summer Language Institute for two summers, which helps to maintain my language skills. I also speak with my various host families from India on the phone and consume a fair amount of Hindi media in my free time, including films, TV shows, news, and podcasts.

What advice do you have for current language students?:

Learning a new language is an exciting, frustrating, and humbling process. Much of what has helped me stay motivated is having goals in mind for how I want to apply my Hindi skills to my life outside of class. For me, that goal has largely been learning more about India and facilitating deeper interpersonal connections. Keep in mind that your goals might be different from your classmates’. Whether you hope to learn conversation phrases, to be able to understand films in the target language, or to conduct research, one learner’s goal is not more valuable than another’s. Viewing your class as a supportivecommunity with a common interest rather than a competitive one is key.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?:
“Ek aur ek gyarah hote hai”: one and one makes eleven. (There is strength in unity.)