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CSLC Spotlight: Katie Bascom

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Earlier this fall, you could see new Russian language tutor, Katie Bascom, in the CSLC’s language acquisition training course for tutors contributing very thoughtful and astute comments. Such engagement speaks a lot about her. She’s a levelheaded, practical, and personable student whose involvement and accomplishments at Notre Dame have been well received by faculty and students alike. This is why the Cincinnati native, who grew up north of Baltimore and began reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy when was 15, was enthusiastically nominated by the Russian Program’s Dr. David Gasperetti and Dr. Maskim Hanukai to be the November 2014 Spotlight at the CSLC.

“For me, an obvious choice would be Katie Bascom,” said Professor Gasperetti, Chair of the Department of German and Russian. Bascom “will graduate as one of our most accomplished majors ever.”

Over the course of 3 ½ years, I’ve seen Bascom participating in a variety of Russian language and culture activities at the CSLC—and I’ve witnessed a young adult come into her own. During our interview, it was evident that Bascom is a mature person with a quiet confidence, has a touch of flair, and is someone who knows what she wants.

“I’m a very decisive person,” Bascom confidently revealed.

And Bascom, a charismatic person who thinks for herself, has decided to pursue a career in school administration. A “joy” for her is “to organize and arrange”; in other words, Bascom likes to lead. In fact, she has built a substantial portfolio already of leadership experiences at the University and in the community, as you will read. As an anecdote, she’s wielded enough influence over other tutors at the CSLC to convince Seung-Jae (David) Oh, Korean language tutor, to join the Russian ensemble musical group. She is definitely an administrator in the works.

It’s the CSLC’s privilege to present such a grounded and exemplary student, Katie Bascom, who has flourished at the University of Notre Dame.

Projects and Goals

What's your 3 – 5 year trajectory? 
I have applied for an English Teaching Assistantship in Russia through Fulbright. After this, I hope to teach either Russian or English literature in an American high school, moving toward a career in school administration.

What current projects are you working on? 
I am writing a senior thesis on Nabokov’s novel Glory and Pushkin’s poem “Autumn.” The paper will deal primarily with Nabokov’s contribution to the Russian tradition of metaliterature. I am also preparing a paper on The Brothers Karamazovto submit to an undergraduate literary journal.

Foreign Language Experience

Tell me about the foreign languages you know and have studied. 
I took Latin for 5 years in middle/high school. Since coming to Notre Dame, I’ve studied Russian exclusively. Learning Russian has been a dream of mine since kindergarten, when some friends of my family adopted two girls from Russia, and that hope became a possibility (and some might say an obsession) beginning freshman year.

What has been your favorite part of learning a language at Notre Dame? 
The professors here are very knowledgeable about the Russian language, of course. But they also are deeply in touch with the motivation behind learning it—their passion for literature and deeper understanding of the Russian culture has greatly informed my own study.

What has been your favorite language class and why? 
All of my Russian classes have been engaging in their own ways…the class I’m currently in, 20th Century Russian Literature with Professor Gasperetti, might be my favorite. (But that’s not strictly a language class, so maybe it doesn’t count.) I have loved seeing the development of Russian poetry from the strict forms of the late Imperial period to the scattered free verse of early Communism.

How do (or have) you use your language – here or abroad? 
I studied abroad in St. Petersburg last spring, and I certainly used Russian there. I lived with a host family, took classes at one of the premier Russian pedagogical universities, attended a Russian church, and made friends with Russians my age, all of which meant that I was exhausting my language abilities every single day. Here, I tutor Russian in the CSLC and am giving individual lessons to a high school student in the community.

What advice would you give to anyone learning a language? 
Speak every chance you get. And try to keep a journal in the target language: even 50-100 words per day will force you to learn new vocabulary and use a variety of grammatical structures. That also allows you to look back after a few months and see how much progress you’ve made!

Also, develop a passion for something cultural in that language. Language learning is really hard without some motivating delight in it. For me, that’s Russian literature. It might also be opera, cartoons, music, or whatever gets you excited.

International Experience: Culture and Perspective

Where have you traveled to and/or studied or worked in? 
I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia and studied at Herzen Pedagogical University in spring 2014.

Describe study program, work program abroad. 
The program is designed as a language-intensive immersion program. We all lived with host families and were in class for about 20 hours/week. The program also included excursions to various places in and around the city. The first month was really hard, as we all transitioned into not only speaking but also thinking Russian all the time. After that, though, we were able to challenge ourselves into more complicated things instead of struggling to use the basics.

What has been your most memorable or impactful experience regarding other cultures? How has that changed your perspectives? 
The trickiest encounters during my semester abroad were the ones with my peers. I was invited to a series of girls’ gatherings at a friend’s apartment. These were not American “hang outs,” but scheduled events. There were planned games, conversation topics, and cooking projects. All of it was foreign in concept and in language, but these were the sorts of girls I wanted to impress and be friends with. So, during games, I would laugh only when I meant it (which was often). During conversation, I would carefully plan so that my input was useful and mostly grammatically correct. Despite my concentrated effort to fit in with my refined acquaintances, I only started to make friends within the group the day I assumed a speaking part in an improv role-play game. As I stumbled over verbs and prepositions, the sophisticated, “Russian” facade I had tried to build fell. But that was the moment I began to sync with the others. The rules were useful, but they were not life; learning to communicate was only useful if I said what I meant.

University Experience

Describe any mentors you have had at Notre Dame and how they have encouraged and inspired you. 
In many respects, the Russian professors I’ve had are the best mentors I could ask for. The way the program is structured and the small size of the department make strong relationships with faculty pretty natural. I’ve had Professor Gillespie for three classes and Professor Gasperetti for four, which combined with office hours and cultural activities, has created an easy environment for academic, professional, and personal mentoring relationships. Both of these professors have pushed me to excel in my language abilities and literary analysis, and they have shown unwavering support in my attempts at work outside the classroom and future pursuits like the Fulbright.

What clubs or activities do you participate in at ND? 
I am an active member of Iron Sharpens Iron, Notre Dame’s interdenominational campus ministry group, where I served on the core leadership team for two years. That experience has been really key in my personal development as an administrator and leader. I am currently laying groundwork for a new Protestant Student Advisory Board through Campus Ministry. I am also the secretary of Russian Club and co- director of Russian Ensemble.

Describe any internships you’ve had. 
I currently have a publishing internship with the Notre Dame academic journal Religion and Literature. In the past, I’ve also had an internship with the English as a Second Language department of my local community college, where I tutored students individually and was a TA in the classroom.

How has the CSLC helped you these past few years? 
The Russian program requires its students to go to the CSLC for tutoring several times a semester throughout the first four semesters of study. These sessions were not only useful for going over tests and assignments, but they also helped me get to know and connect to upperclassmen in the program. Now, as a tutor, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the Russian language on a different level than as a student. Working as a tutor has helped me to think critically about my own learning experience.

Community Engagement

Can you talk about your volunteer or community engagement experience? 
Currently, most of my community engagement is facilitated through my church, Fulkerson Park Baptist. I am currently teaching two classes there, one for K-1st graders, and one for 4th-6th. I’m also involved in a mentoring program for at-risk kids at the public elementary school next door to the church.

What else would you like our readers to know about you?
Ever since getting back from study abroad, I have discovered a passion for cooking…Russian style. Recipes were never my thing, and the Russian way of cooking is very intuitive, based on how things look, smell, and feel at any point during the process.

I also dabble in artistic things like playing the ukulele, swing dancing, and embroidery.

So the bright and even-keeled Bascom has an adventurous artistic side too, making her a well-rounded individual who's realizing her potential. Dr. Gasperetti affirms:

"Like most students in our program, Katie Bascom started Beginning Russian I in her first semester at Notre Dame. She has made excellent use of the past three years and as a result will graduate as one of our most accomplished majors ever. In addition to being an extremely perceptive reader of literature, Katie has also built an impressive resumé. Among other things, she has studied for a semester in St. Petersburg, is currently writing an honors thesis on the émigré writer Valdimir Nabokov, serves as one of our two Russian peer tutors, and is also instrumental in organizing and leading our Russian choir."