May 20, 2021
STARTALK instructors, including Alla Kourova

The STARTALK Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program has returned to UCF for a sixth year, thanks to grant funding and the work of associate professor of Russian, Alla Kourova. High school and undergraduate students of all language levels enrolled in the three-week program will expand their language and cultural fluencies, enhance their resume and gain a competitive edge in the global workforce. Hosted by UCF Modern Languages and Literatures with the support of UCF Global and the Russian-American Community Center of Florida, STARTALK will take place from July 6 to 23 at UCF Global. Registration is available here.

STARTALK is a federal grant program funded by the National Security Agency and administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. With the goal to fund programs for students and teachers of eight critical need languages, STARTALK supports immersive summer programs, intensive teacher development experiences and practicum programs that benefit both students and teachers.

Kourova has spearheaded the STARTALK program at UCF since its inception. Through her persistence, UCF became the first and only university in the state of Florida to host STARTALK. In addition to university students, high school students are also invited to participate in the program. This early introduction to Russian and the UCF Modern Languages and Literatures Department has been vital in acquainting students with the university. “We attract the high school students to come to the Russian program,” said Kourova. “I already see that flow.”

Many of Kourova’s former students go on to assist with STARTALK as alumni. “The instructors who are teaching with me during the summer program are all my former students,” said Kourova. Her former student, Irina Pidberejna ‘15, is currently earning her Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham but assists at STARTALK each year. Michelle Verbitskaya, TESOL M.A. student at UCF, also instructs at STARTALK.

In previous years, participants took field trips to the Holocaust Museum, Russian-American Community Center, Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Church and a Russian-language theater performance. This year, with COVID-19 safety practices in place, students will experience 90 hours of instructional time with an emphasis on cultural immersion and speaking. “STARTALK means ‘start talking.’ It’s based on the conversational practice,” said Kourova.

Students will once again benefit from Kourova’s unique teaching style. Known for her focus on real-world experience and engaging students with native speakers, Kourova was recently featured on a Russian-American television station to discuss her approach to teaching. Kourova is excited to bring this year’s participants to the same locations that benefitted students in previous years.

At the end of the program, participants will be certified speakers of a critical language, receive a certificate of achievement and earn life-long membership in the Russian Club at UCF, and UCF students may earn three credit hours. More information can be found at