UMD Samskritam is a branch of Samskrita Bharati at the University of Maryland. They also have a website for spreading the use of Sanskrit. They had organized a two day weekend workshop in Maryland on 5th and 6th August. I was interested in learning Sanskrit for a while now, and Arun had got me interested in workshop. Since I had nothing to do anyway, I went ahead for the workshop.
The method of teaching at the workshop was very simple. Instead of starting off with grammatical rules and vibhaktis that sees the student lose interest very quickly, the focus was on teaching to speak basic Sanskrit, to be able to alteast start a conversation in Sanskrit. Mr. Rajesh Rachabattuni, who was in charge of the workshop, is a really good teacher. He tried to use as few English words as possible, yet the concepts were understood by everyone.
A lot of words and usages were taught in the workshop, but I probably retained only about half of that. Which is expected considering this was my first exposure to Sanskrit outside of mantras, and a whirlwind one at that too! But for those who had prior experience of such workshops, this would have served as an excellent review session. Either ways, the workshop was beneficial to everyone in attendance.
While I probably might not be able to speak fluently (thats asking for too much after just two days), I can certainly manage broken Sanskrit (the grimace on the face of Rajeshji notwithstanding). The biggest plus, though, is that I can now read Sanskrit to a moderate degree. I just logged onto the samskritam yahoogroup, and I could almost completely understand the latest message in Sanskrit. For this, I must thank Rajeshji, Arun, Avinash and everyone else at the workshop who helped clear various doubts at different times!
The next step now is to organize a similar workshop at Rutgers. The group at UMD has already promised help. I really hope the aim of Samskrita Bharati is fulfilled in the future.