Consider Yourself Invited to Join the Georgia Tech Swahili Family

Swahili student group shot

Posted December 18, 2020

“Prepare your heart to sing and have a good time.” 

With that, Dr. Dainess Maganda opened the first-ever Swahili class offered at Georgia Tech. 

Swahili is one of the newest languages taught at Georgia Tech. It is being offered as an initiative of the School of Modern Languages (ML) and the Atlanta Global Studies Center (AGSC) to provide more applied language learning to serve all Georgia Tech students. 

As the Communications Manager for the Denning Technology & Management Program housed in the Scheller College of Business, I don’t often take classes on campus. But Swahili 1001 called to me. I wanted to learn one of the languages my boyfriend speaks and find out more about his Kenyan culture. Plus, as a writer, I wanted to understand the lyrics when he listened to Bongo Flava music.  

I signed up to audit the class and was placed with five undergraduate College of Engineering classmates. 

That first day, after we had introduced ourselves, sung, practiced a few simple words -- sawa sawa, hodi hodi, karibu, and of course, asante – I wrote about the experience on Facebook. 

“Yesterday, when Georgia Tech kicked off the semester, I was overwhelmed by the weight of providing a structure for my students amidst the chaos of the coronavirus. But today, as a student, I was hopeful and filled with gratitude for the opportunity to learn something new.” 

Taught by African Studies expert Dr. Dainess Maganda, the course connects Georgia Tech with the University of Georgia’s African Languages, Literature, & Culture Program, which Dr. Maganda directs. In spring 2021, the School of Modern Languages will be offering Swahili 1002 and Swahili 1501 (Heritage Swahili) on TR 9:30-10:45. Anyone with basic Swahili language skills, even if they haven’t studied formally, is encouraged to enroll and join our “Swahili family.” Phase II registration is open until January 15.  

My fellow students had many reasons for taking the course. 

Alianna Dhalla is a fourth-year Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering major with her eyes set on law school when she graduates. She said she wanted to be able to talk with her parents in Swahili. 

“My parents grew up in Kenya, so I always heard them speaking Swahili growing up, but I never learned. I wanted to learn more about this part of my culture,” Alianna told me. Now that she has studied Swahili this semester, she can understand her parents and join in. Since she has been living at home, post-class time involved sharing the lesson with them. 

Janice Cherono is a third-year Civil Engineering major. Besides communicating with her extended family, her motivation to learn Swahili relates to her future career.  

“As a civil engineer with a focus in hydrology, I find it inexcusable that water access is considered a privilege globally rather than a right, and I want to use my degree in places like East Africa to develop efficient ways to make water accessible to all.” 

Dr. Anna Westerstahl Stenport, the school’s chair founding co-director of the Atlanta Global Studies Center, told me that helping students realize these kinds of goals all around the world is one of the primary reasons for expanding the slate of languages taught at Georgia Tech. 

“Enhancing global competence and cross-cultural understanding are core priorities for the School Modern Languages and AGSC. By adding Swahili, we are strengthening our efforts to diversify our curriculum to advance Georgia Tech’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”  

Dr. Stenport also told me that these language courses also support Georgia’s cultural, diplomatic, and economic connections to Swahili-speaking regions of Africa, while expanding our teaching of national security critical languages, as identified by the Department of Defense. 

“It’s wonderful to see so many undergraduate College of Engineering students taking advantage of applied language learning. We serve all Georgia Tech students, regardless of major.” 

Eva Noertoft, a second-year Mechanical Engineering major from Uganda, practiced Swahili with her grandma and friends. It helped bring her closer to them and to her future goals.  

“I felt that learning a language that is widespread in East Africa and the world would help me in my career and travels,” she told me. 

Eva served as the class timekeeper and shared that it meant a lot to her that an international institution such as Georgia Tech acknowledged Swahili as a global language worth offering. 

Ngari Kariuki, a second-year Mechanical Engineering major, served as our class liaison with the teacher and unofficial translator. He is from Kenya and already knew how to speak Swahili, so he used his time to improve his grammar and take his knowledge to the next level.  

Hope Wamae, a fourth-year Mechanical Engineer, joined our virtual classroom from Pennsylvania every morning. Her whole family is from Kenya, and she is a first-generation Kenyan-American born in the United States. As the youngest in her family, she is the only one who doesn’t speak fluent Swahili. 

“I was hoping learning the language would also help me feel more connected to my culture. I hope to continue passing down the Kenyan and Kikuyu culture to my kids someday,” Wamae said.  

After a semester of learning, we took the final on December 3. This class was a wonderful experience, and my fellow students and I all hope it will be the beginning of a fruitful expansion of the Swahili curriculum and African Studies at Georgia Tech. 

I asked Dr. Maganda why Georgia Tech students should take Swahili, she said, “If you want a class that will push you to learn a language and a culture in ways that help you see the world in a way you have never thought before, then take this class. If you want to experience what it means to live in a community with other students that makes you see them as a family away from home, then take this class. If you want to learn a language that is applicable around the world, then take this class. I like to say, if you learn another language, you gain another soul. Come join us, welcome to our Swahili family.” 

The entire class would like to thank our professor, affectionately called “Mwalimu” (teacher in Swahili), for encouraging us to count our blessings and help each other whenever possible. As we learned in one of our many thoughts of the day, “Haijalishi mwendo wako wa pole pole ili hali tu usimame.” It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop. In their own words, here is what my classmates Alianna, Janice, Eva, Ngari, and Hope had to say: 

“If you are considering studying Swahili, you definitely should. I learned a lot more about the language and culture than I thought I could in one semester.” – Alianna Dhalla, CHBE ‘21 

“My favorite Swahili word would have to be ‘harambee.’ I know it may seem cliché to choose a word that means ‘pull together,’ especially in a year where it seems like that is what everyone is calling everyone else to do. However, I think this word aptly describes the atmosphere and the culture of taking Swahili: it is a class that encourages its students to try anything, that failing without shame and picking yourself back up is learning, and that communication is what connects us to each other and should be cherished and used to lift others up.” – Janice Cherono, CE ‘22 

“I would say, ‘keep an open mind.’ You never know where life takes you. Having a global language in your back pocket could benefit you a lot. The most memorable thing I learned this semester is to take care of myself while studying. Even though this is not directly related to the Swahili language, Mwalimu made a large effort to make learning a healthy balance. It helped change my perspective on how to balance college and personal life.” – Eva Noertoft, ME ‘23 

“It was really nice to have a warm, refreshing course to look forward to in the morning. Defo take it.” – Ngari Kariuki, ME ‘23 

“Do it! Even if you’re not African, it’s still so much fun to learn, especially with Professor Maganda. I learned so much about my own culture and met some really cool people through this course. In the time of Covid-19, it’s easier than ever to isolate yourself and inadvertently cut yourself off from social interaction. Mwalimu’s virtual classroom environment was always so uplifting. We were each other’s cheerleaders during midterms and rough weeks, and no matter how I felt when I woke up, by the time the class ended, I was always in a good mood.” – Hope Wamae, ME ‘21 

So, join us! Seriously. Consider yourself officially invited. 


By Anne Lynch 

Communications Manager, Denning Technology & Management Program, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech  


The Swahili Program in the School of Modern Languages is partially funded by the Atlanta Global Studies Center through its U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center grant. 

Students attending other colleges and universities affiliated with the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education (ARCHE) may also be able to enroll through the council’s cross-registration program. Students at other ARCHE institutions should check with their school’s registrar for details. 

Helpful Links: 

Georgia Tech’s School of Modern Languages 

African Languages, Literature, & Culture Program, University of Georgia 

Atlanta Global Studies Center 


Dr. Dainess Maganda 
Lecturer of Swahili, School of Modern Languages, Georgia Tech
Director, African Languages, Literature, & Culture Program, University of Georgia  

Sebnem Ozkan 
Associate Director, Atlanta Global Studies Center, School of Modern Languages, Georgia Tech 

Mirla Gonzalez 
Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Modern Languages, Georgia Tech 

Contact For More Information

Anne Lynch 
Communications Manager, Denning Technology & Management Program, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech