By Avan Antia (CLS Hindi 2015)
They say that the more you learn, the less you know. In 2015, I participated in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Hindi program in Jaipur. I joined the program to learn Hindi, but I soon discovered that CLS is far more than just an intensive language learning program. During my two months in Jaipur, I was constantly pushed outside of my comfort zone to interact with new people in new ways and in a different language! I returned from the experience with a fresh understanding of myself and others. But most importantly, I learned that there was so little that I knew about my world. My strong desire to learn more is what inspired me to apply for the AIF Clinton Fellowship, a 10-month immersive volunteer experience in the development field in India.
Today, I am grateful to be working at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Center for Herpetology (MCBT). MCBT is an organization that serves as a center for conservation, captive breeding, scientific research, education, and discovery! Currently, we have over 2,000 reptiles within our lush campus, which serve the purpose of public education. As a Fellow at MCBT, I am working to formulate a solid waste management strategy for the organization. In addition, I have the exciting opportunity to design workshops for local schools to educate the younger generation about the importance of “being green.” Thus, my work here lies at the intersection of science, environmental conservation, waste management, and education.
Since my project often requires me to interact with people who do not speak English, I am trying hard to learn Tamil. Thanks to my experience in CLS, I find it much easier to pick up the language through my daily interactions. One of my CLS Hindi teachers was a doctor of linguistics, and he always made sure to explain the “why” behind each language concept. This was an extremely valuable lesson in language learning and I have been able to apply many of the same concepts to Tamil. CLS left me with a strong scaffolding of language and grammar, so as I learn more Tamil words, I simply have to fill them into the scaffolding.
Applying to the CLS Program: If you have a passion for languages, cultures, learning, travel, or new experiences, then consider the CLS Program! Of course, the first step towards making that a reality is to apply. Having gone through the process, I’d like to offer some insight, so here are my top three pieces of advice regarding the application process:
- Don’t say, prove. Instead of saying that you are “open-minded” or a “hard worker,” tell a story that proves that you possess those traits. Remember, those evaluating your application have read hundreds of other applications as well, so you want to make yourself stand out by giving clear examples that are unique to you!
- You don’t need to be a superhero to be accepted. Many people think that they will be rejected from a program because they haven’t done anything “extraordinary” in their past. Keep in mind that programs like these are looking to create a well-balanced group of individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences. What seems “boring” or “unimpressive” to you could be something that no one else in the group has ever done. Confidence in yourself is key!
- Don’t procrastinate. One of the hardest things about applying is just starting to write that first sentence. I strongly suggest that you start early, read over the essay prompts and simply jot down every idea that comes to mind. Then try bringing each idea to life by turning it into a story that answers the prompt. Select the one that turns out to be the most effective essay, add details, and clean it up from there. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to change your essay topics a few times until you get it right!
I’d like to leave you with one of the best bits of advice I ever received in college: “Make yourself feel awkward.” I have carried these words with me to inspire me in everything I do. In unfamiliar situations, when you are pushed far out of your comfort zone, you grow the most as a person. Taking this advice to heart helped me better understand myself in the greater context of the world and helped shape my career goals. If you are thinking of applying to CLS, any professional scholarship or fellowship program, do it! It will take you far, both in miles and new and unique life experiences!