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New ELTS department seeks to provide holistic approach in first full academic year

In Spring 2021, UCLA merged the departments of French and Francophone studies, Germanic languages, Scandinavian and Italian to create the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies. The new ELTS department, situated in Royce Hall, will embark on its first full academic year in operation in fall 2021, offering new majors and minors to students.

By Yifan Gu

Aug. 21, 2021 5:26 p.m.

UCLA has retained its dedication to European language studies in creating the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies, which has been official since spring 2021 and will begin its first full academic year as a fully operational department in fall 2021.

The new ELTS department, housed in Royce Hall, is the result of a merger of the departments of Germanic languages, French and Francophone studies, Italian and Scandinavian. It holds 6 undergraduate majors and 5 minors, along with one MA and 3 PhD degrees, all of which pertain to the languages and related topics taught in the previously separate departments, according to the ELTS website.

With the merger, a number of new assistant professors have also been hired, said Todd Presner, professor and chair of the ELTS department.

The new department aims to provide a more holistic approach to focus on the breadth of European languages and cultures. There is an expanded emphasis on perspectives from other parts of the world for a more thorough understanding of history and a more exact contextualization of the European experience and legacy, according to UCLA Newsroom.

According to the Modern Language Association, from 2013 to 2016 651 foreign language programs were cut by U.S. universities, with French losing 129 and Spanish 118. UCLA resisted the national downward trend against European languages by establishing ELTS, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the undergraduate majors, students can choose to focus two years on studying French, German, Italian, or a Scandinavian language, said David Kim, a professor of the department. They can also be involved in Nordic studies with less of a focus on foreign language acquisition. They can choose to take courses covering culture, literature, film and media and experimental humanities, a category that consists of digital, environmental, medical, and urban humanities, Kim added.

The relationship between the United States and Europe is a very deep one and plays an integral role in American culture, said Kim, who is also vice chair of undergraduate studies in the ELTS department and interim faculty director for the International Education Office.

Kim said many European refugees fled to the United States during World War II. He added many American scholars studied European counterparts to further their understanding of literature, politics and science.

European languages, cultures, and histories are not local, but move with their people, Presner said. He added that many challenges today, including the future of democracy, environmental issues, and computational media, can be seen with a historical perspective and have deep historical roots.

“It’s important to not just focus on the here and now without the understanding of the then and there,” Presner said.

Students who leave UCLA with an ELTS degree have skills for reading and writing critically, working with different cultural backgrounds, and analyzing quantitatively — that stems from digital humanities, Presner said.

Kerry Allen, the student affairs officer of the department, has been working at UCLA for 33 years. She said she has worked for all the departments that were in the merger, adding that her former students have now entered a variety of professional fields.

“I had a Scandinavian major who went to medical school,” Allen said. “She said that when she went through her interview, the people on the committee asked her: ‘Everybody has good grades, so what made you stand out?’ And she said, ‘I majored in Scandinavian,’ and she’s convinced that’s what got her into medical school.”

There are currently 37 students who are still pursuing the old undergraduate majors and minors prior to the merger, according to statistics Allen supplied. The majority of these students will graduate in or before spring 2022. Continuing students may still proceed with their previous specializations without losing anything, Allen said.

The change in graduate students’ courses and specializations is much less compared to that among undergraduate students after the merger. Allen said the only change is that all new graduate students are now required to take ELTS 200, an introductory course to prepare them for graduate work with writing and research skills.

This year, the faculty might consider changing the graduate program, Allen added.

Rebecca Glasberg, a doctoral student studying French and Francophone Studies, said she was very nervous before the official announcement of the merger when she heard rumors of the plan.

“But then once we got started, everyone kind of realized that this was a new and exciting direction to go in,” Glasberg said. “It just opened up a lot of doors for everyone.”

Glasberg said she feels the merger creates even more opportunities and support for her research. Before, she might only approach professors of her own department, she said, but now she feels she can more easily interact and converse with almost twice as many faculty members.

Presner said Europe is not a homogeneous place and the department’s classes work against the idea that their studies are only about dead white men.

“Look at the classes that are being offered, you really see a diversity of approaches, especially tuned to issues around race, gender, sexuality, religious difference,” Presner said. “It’s actually incumbent upon us to recognize that diversity, and also to reflect that in the courses that we’re offering, which I believe we do.”

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