An Interview with Leadership Fellow Josiah Pywtorak

Leadership Fellows play a crucial role in making sure the Global Language Network runs smoothly. Fellows get to work on exciting projects like supporting students, recruiting teachers and providing them with resources, sharing information on social media, and representing the GLN mission to the broader community. One of our Leadership Fellows, Josiah Pywtorak, offers his insights on learning languages and what led him to working with GLN!

Learn more about the Leadership Fellowship here.

Where are you from?

I’m from Front Royal, Virginia.

Where did you go to college, and what was your major?

I went to the University of Virginia, and I studied Slavic Studies.

What’s your native language? What languages have you studied?

My native language is English (I’m American). I’ve studied Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian.

Which language is your favorite?

Ukrainian – 100%.

What got you interested in those languages?

Most of my relatives immigrated from Poland or Western/Central Ukraine, so that culture was really lost among my parents. In other words, my grandparents didn’t hand it down, and I became really interested in it. Once I started studying it, I realized there are a lot of other sides to language learning. I’m also learning a lot about the history of the Soviet Union and of the Byzantine Empire and how that influenced Eastern Europe. It expanded my worldview because when you really get into studying a language like that and its culture, you learn so much you wouldn’t learn in other classes. You learn history that’s not really taught in American schools. 

I’m particularly interested in learning Ukrainian right now because I want to transition into doing humanitarian work with Ukrainians. 

Where’s your favorite place you’ve traveled?

Lviv, Ukraine easily. I love Lviv. I was an English instructor there, and I really connected with my students and became personal friends with them. I established greater ties with the community. There are a lot of native Ukrainian speakers in my family, so I was able to experience the culture my dad’s side of the family is from.

Lviv is really cool because of the mixture of Austrian, Soviet Brutalist, Polish, and even Armenian architecture. It’s a really gorgeous cosmopolitan city. There’s also a forest in the middle of the city. There’s a lot of music there, too. I’ve never been to a place where people are playing acoustic instruments on the street every day or singing. Ukrainians sing a lot.

If you could have dinner with any famous person, who would you have dinner with?

The composer Philip Glass. I connect really well with his music, and he’s one of the few living composers who I really connect with in that way. 

Why GLN?

Language learning has had a really transformative impact on my life because of the relationships I’ve been able to form through it, and I want to help facilitate that for other people.

What’s been your favorite part of the Leadership Fellowship so far?

I’ve really enjoyed reaching out to speakers of many, many different languages — some I’d never heard of before — and seeing their enthusiasm and willingness to freely give their time to GLN and dedicate themselves to teaching.

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