Undergrads Take On Key Languages Abroad

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 6, 2010) With the world becoming ever-smaller and more connected, the United States Department of State saw a need for critical language studies in 2006.

University of Kentucky international studies students Amber Davis and Ashley Meredith will have the opportunity to further their knowledge of Chinese and Arabic, respectively, with two of the approximately 575 Critical Language Scholarships awarded by the State Department this summer.

"This kind of opportunity is hard to pass up," said Davis, who will be living with a host family and studying Chinese in Nanjing. "China is an important and up-and-coming nation; these experiences are important."

Davis has always liked learning languages; she began with Latin in high school. For Meredith, it was National Geographic." I always wanted to travel and explore the places I saw," she said. "When I got to college I wanted to study something that would help me get there."

Davis and Meredith will spend seven to 10 weeks in intensive language training in two of 13 critical need areas, which include Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

"I'll be taking Arabic classes five hours a day, five days a week, plus about 4-5 hours of homework each day," said Meredith, who will be studying in Jordan. "We take a language pledge to only speak Arabic while we're there which forces us to practice."

This year's CLS Program received nearly 5,300 applications. Students from a wide range of academic disciplines and U.S. colleges and universities from all 50 states were selected for scholarships through a merit-based selection process. 

Students had the choice to study in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Russia, South Korea, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey or others where the target languages are spoken.

"Chinese is a really complicated language," Davis explained. "It's tonal, so there's a disconnect between what it looks like and what it sounds like. Living with a host family will definitely improve my language abilities."

CLS Program participants are among the more than 40,000 academic and professional exchange program participants supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries.

"Learning another language makes you aware of another culture," said Davis. "It's more than just memorization."

"Language isn't just about grammar and vocabulary," said Meredith. "It connects you with culture in a very deep and personal way, and I think it would be foolish to try and understand a culture without knowing the language."

For further information, visit www.clscholarship.org and http://exchanges.state.gov.