Critical Language Scholarship Program | Annisah Smith
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Annisah Smith

Being award­ed the Crit­i­cal Lan­guage Schol­ar­ship was a spe­cial moment for me as it allowed me to final­ly learn Bahasa Indone­sia in a for­mal set­ting and con­nect with my Indone­sian family.” 

Annisah Smith par­tic­i­pat­ed in CLS Indone­sian in 2015 and 2016 in Malang, Indone­sia. She grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and spoke a mix of infor­mal Indone­sian and Malay at home, while attend­ing an inter­na­tion­al school. 

As a her­itage speak­er, grow­ing up speak­ing the lan­guage at home, it was dif­fi­cult to tran­si­tion to learn­ing the lan­guage for­mal­ly in a class­room. Even though it was a chal­lenge, I knew being able to read and write Bahasa Indone­sia was nec­es­sary if I ever want­ed to live and work in Indone­sia. This proved ben­e­fi­cial when I began intern­ing at the Indone­sian Embassy in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. in 2017 and was was tasked to write for­mal let­ters and documents.”

Being half Indone­sian on the CLS Pro­gram opened up so many doors for me pro­fes­sion­al­ly, but more impor­tant­ly, it allowed me to become clos­er to a part of myself that had been dor­mant since mov­ing to the Unit­ed States. As a Mus­lim, Indone­sian-Amer­i­can, peo­ple often ques­tioned my iden­ti­ty, but the CLS Pro­gram gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express how diverse Amer­i­cans real­ly are.” 

The CLS Pro­gram offered Annisah the chance to learn from the oth­er diverse par­tic­i­pants in her cohorts and build life­long connections. 

The best and most unex­pect­ed gift of the CLS Pro­gram is the com­radery of the oth­er 25 par­tic­i­pants. Even though I applied to CLS for my own per­son­al rea­sons, I soon real­ized that the expe­ri­ence was about the peo­ple I joined with and help­ing each oth­er nav­i­gate the expe­ri­ence togeth­er. I wouldn’t be where I am today with­out the sup­port of my cohort and the teach­ing staff.”

After grad­u­at­ing from her master’s pro­gram at Amer­i­can University’s School of Inter­na­tion­al Ser­vice, Annisah was a Sus­tain­able Palm Oil Intern with Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tion­al before return­ing to South­east Asia on the Ful­bright Stu­dent Pro­gram in Malaysia. She used lan­guage skills that she gained on the CLS Pro­gram to engage with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials in Sarawak, Malaysia and her moth­er’s home region of North Suma­tra in Indone­sia. Annisah fur­ther explored the sig­nif­i­cance of com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment in pro­mot­ing envi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tices with­in Indone­sia and Malaysia’s palm oil industry.

As a mixed kid grow­ing up between Asia and Amer­i­ca, I’ve been fre­quent­ly asked, where are you real­ly from’ or, if you’re Mus­lim, why don’t you wear a hijab?’ While frus­trat­ing at times, my expe­ri­ences with the CLS Pro­gram showed me the impor­tance of learn­ing and appre­ci­at­ing one’s own back­ground to under­stand and share the com­plex­i­ties of the world around us.”

Each time I look back on my sum­mers with the CLS Pro­gram I can’t help but feel grat­i­tude for the chance to learn my mother’s lan­guage and cul­ture and build a career that con­tin­ues to bring me clos­er to my sec­ond home.

From the con­nec­tions she made from her research in Malaysia, Annisah will be start­ing a new job in Sin­ga­pore at Stew­ard­ship Asia Cen­ter, whose mis­sion is to pro­mote stew­ard­ship and gov­er­nance across Asia by work­ing with cor­po­ra­tions to fos­ter respon­si­ble wealth cre­ation for the long-term.


Alumni Profiles

Annisah Smith
Annisah Smith
Indonesian 2016
Malang, Indonesia

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Posted Date

January 14, 2020