U.S. Army Africa sponsors culture, language center
June 13, 2014
For Fysal Shebaro, a U.S. Army Africa G-2 (Intelligence) employee, seeking an alternative to sending local students to language schools and education centers in the U.S. and Europe just made good sense.
"We have a number of people who travel to a variety of countries in Africa who can benefit from a language and cultural center. Why send them on TDY (temporary assignment), to a language school when we can provide all of the services here," said Shebaro, USARAF's language program manager. "Furthermore, language and culture knowledge are a key elements for mission success."
Shebaro's brainchild wasn't an overnight creation.
Shebaro consulted with his boss and eventually Daniel Regelbrugge, the Defense Language Institute's program coordinator in Europe. For Shebaro, creating a local language and cultural center has been two years in the making.
"When I first spoke to Fysal two years ago, building a language and cultural center was one of the first things we talked about," said USARAF Chief of Staff Col. Pedro G. Almeida during the center's grand opening ceremony.
"With just a little investment in a classroom and an instructor, there isn't the need to send students to the states or Germany," Shebaro said. "The primary reason for the center is mission readiness. There are a number of reasons to have a local language and culture center. It's important for people traveling to different countries in Africa and elsewhere to become familiar with the local culture and language in order to successfully carry out a mission."
Dr. Betty Lou Leaver, provost for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and speaker at the grand opening of the Ederle facility, echoed Shebaro's reasoning that both cost-saving and mission readiness will be enhanced by the South of the Alps center.
"Not only do you save money by not having to send someone on TDY, you have local support after they have completed the course of instruction. Having a permanent facility is more flexible and more durative. The benefit is mission enhancement and sustainment of language skills. Students can come in and use the facility for self-study and there are instructors here who are ready and willing to help," Leaver said.
Leaver is arguably one of the top linguists in the U.S. and is a former Army crypto linguist. She has taught graduate, undergraduate, and language teacher courses and worked with Cosmonauts is Star City, Russia. She is fluent in Russian and has studied 19 other languages.
Shebaro explained how pre-deployment language and cultural training improves mission readiness.
"Just by knowing the basics of a foreign language and the culture can show our good will toward a host country. And that's what we concentrate on here at the South of the Alps center," he said.
Military and DoD Civilians assigned to USARAF and Vicenza military community are eligible to use the facility.
The center features a language lab complete with computer stations capable of providing students with an interactive language learning experience. Additionally, one class room offers video teleconferencing with other language detachments in Europe and the United Kingdom.
"This is a state-of-the-art facility equipped to provide both residential and distance learning. We have two fully equipped classrooms along with a study lab," Shebaro said.
Two full-time employees provide instruction for up to 16 students. When there is a need, more part-time instructors are available, said Shebaro.
Nabila Garas is an assistant professor at the center and teaches both Arabic and French; languages that are used frequently in many African nations. Garas says she is impressed with the center.
"I love the facility. It's well equipped and suitable for a productive learning environment," Garas said. "Each of our classrooms has an All-in-One big screen and a laptop for each student. We also have access to a computer network which gives teachers and students easy access to a variety of educational resources."
According to Shebaro, the center isn't just for deploying soldiers.
"Not only does the South of the Alps Language and Culture Training Detachment provide pre-deployment training for our Soldiers and Civilians, it also provides the training to make sure that all Soldiers and Civilians with foreign language abilities can maintain their proficiency levels," he said.