Critical Language Scholarship Program | Abdul Sanderson
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Abdul Sanderson

Abdul Sanderson is an alumnus of the 2021 CLS Russian Program hosted virtually by American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Abdul graduated from SUNY Geneso with bachelor's degrees in Economics and Political Science. He plans to pursue a career in international diplomacy using his Russian language skills to create connection and foster mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations. 

Getting to Know Abdul

I was born in Ethiopia, but I have lived most of my life in Upstate New York where I spent most of my time on the soccer field playing for several competitive and noncompetitive teams. At college, I played on the ultimate frisbee team competing against teams from all over the country. I love to travel and have been to 14 countries on four continents. I plan to visit all seven continents, yes, even Antarctica. At home, I have 12 siblings and seven cats. My siblings and I were all adopted by our mother, and we come from Ethiopia, Liberia, India and throughout the U.S. Our family puts a great deal of effort into learning about cultures, history and geography. We have hosted exchange students from at least 25 countries, which has greatly influenced many of my personal, academic and career goals. It also pushed me into language learning because I wanted to learn more about the cultures of the exchange students we hosted. It even led me to study abroad in college at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. 

Abdul during his study abroad in Fribourg, Switzerland.

Why Russian? 

Many of the exchange students our family hosted were Russian speakers and it was fascinating to hear them talk in a shared language even though they were from different countries. Once I started learning Russian, I found that those teachers became some of my favorites. They were encouraging during my learning process, and I always looked forward to their classes. This was especially true with my Russian teachers on the CLS Program. 

 I love the Russian language because of its complexity and intricacies. So when I learn a complex word or an even more difficult grammar rule, it makes the successes all the more rewarding. Along with being an important language for international diplomacy and business, it is also useful for personal travel in many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The culture of Russian speakers is as vast and beautiful as the lands where those cultures reside, and I think that is a delightful concept. 

Dispelling Misconceptions

When I usually tell people I am from New York, their assumption is that I am from New York City. Many people don’t realize that New York is a whole state! My home community is the furthest from the concrete jungle and has more hills and windmills than large skyscrapers. Coming into CLS, I knew that my role within my cohort and host community would be to dispel the monolithic American culture often depicted through media. In turn, I was able to learn about the rich history and culture of Kyrgyzstan and share it with my family and community. One of my favorite things to learn about was the abundance of national parks and natural attractions in Kyrgyzstan! 

Listening to the Same Beat 

I had many great moments on my CLS Russian Program—learning the 22-letter word for “sights” (достопримечательности) to my language partner taking me along on a virtual tour of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Some of my fondest moments were connecting with my language partner over music. We both loved the same genres and artists, and it became a great way to learn Russian colloquial terms. During one of our meetings, he decided to share one of the beats he made with me, and we discussed it using the vocabulary and terms I had learned from our past conversations. It was a great moment for me that he trusted me and valued my input to share his work. 

Future Plans 

I plan to attain a master's degree in international relations and/or economics where I also plan to continue my language studies at a higher level. Ultimately, I hope to work in international diplomacy where a strong grasp on a foreign language, like Russian, will be vital. Before that, I hope to visit Russia and the former soviet states for an immersive experience in Russian speaking cultures. 

Abdul (back left) in Strasbourg, France.

Words of Advice

I certainly would recommend the CLS program to anyone interested. The program requires commitment from the moment you start applying, but the rewards are substantial. Whether you study through the virtual program or in-country, you will gain many skills and improve your language proficiency. Like most other opportunities, the CLS program is what you make out of it. You have to apply yourself to all the components of the program including classes, homework, cultural events, and all others. Push yourself out of your comfort zone because you won’t grow if you stay comfortable. Lastly, treat every occasion as an opportunity to learn something new.


Alumni Profiles

Abdul Sanderson
Abdul Sanderson
Russian 2021
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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Posted Date

April 22, 2022