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This page is maintained by the President of the Critical Languages of the Southeast Region (CLOSER) or their designee. If you would like to contribute to the page or add an upcoming event to the list of announcements, please contact Michelle Verbitskaya. Available job positions for critical language educators may be submitted to


The mission of Critical Languages of Southeastern Region (CLOSER) is to promote the study and advancement of critically important and yet critically under-taught world languages in order to develop mutual understanding, cultural competence, and intersectional cooperation between educators, learners, and professionals in all fields. CLOSER aims to develop, sustain, and popularize K-16 critical language initiatives across the Southeast Region of the United States. CLOSER welcomes and actively cultivates domestic and international partners.

Board Members


Dr. Alla Kourova is an associate professor of TESOL and Russian at the University of Central Florida. She  graduated from Moscow State University with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Teaching Foreign Languages. Dr. Kourova has received multiple US Department of States grants: US – Russia Dialogue Program, STARTALK grants, and Fulbright Hays-Group Grant. Her pedagogical credo is teaching language through culture.

Vice President

Snezhana Zheltoukhova, Ph.D., has been teaching linguistics and Russian as a world language since her graduation from Moscow (Lomonosov) State University. For a decade, she continued teaching the language and culture at Carleton College, Pomona College, Beloit College, University of Missouri-Columbia, Indiana University Bloomington, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, Zheltoukhova is an Assistant Professor of Practice and Director of Language Commons at Stetson University. Her research interests are within the field of second language acquisition and pedagogy, specifically world language tutoring, analysis of discourse and interaction, sociocultural theory, and technology-mediated language learning.


Irina Pidberejna is a STARTALK instructor of Russian at the University of Central Florida since 2017. She has her Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from the University of Alabama. She speaks Russian, Ukrainian, English and Spanish and advocates for bilingual and cross cultural opportunities in all educational settings.


Educational Technology Chair/Treasurer

Michelle Verbitskaya is an M.A. in TESOL student at the University of Central Florida. Originally from Eastern Siberia, Russia, Michelle is a bilingual speaker of English and Russian, an instructor of Russian for STARTALK at UCF, and an instructor of Issues in Second Language Acquisition. Michelle's research interests concern L2 writing, intersections of identity, social movements, and language, teaching Russian as L2, and language ideology. For a sample of video projects, click here.


Dr. Barry J. Morris earned a BA in Russian and political science with a specialization in international relations from Tulane University, and an MA and PhD in international relations and international political economy from Emory University. He has been a professor and university administrator in the U.S., Africa and China serving in various posts including Vice Provost, Dean and Professor of International Relations. As Senior International Officer, Chief Global Strategist at UCF, and the Board of Directors of NAFSA—Association of International Educators he has participated in the Fulbright Hays Group Project Abroad Program “Building Bridges with Language and Culture in Russia.”


The Florida Foreign Language Association, Inc. is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions to FFLA are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. FFLA's tax identification number is 65-0736242.

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Join other concerned advocates who want to advance second-language education to develop a highly skilled, linguistically competent workforce in the state of Florida.

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