Critical Language Scholarship Program | 2020 Alumni Ambassador Year…
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2020 Alumni Ambassador Year in Review

Despite the unprece­dent­ed chal­lenges prompt­ed by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic in 2020, Alum­ni Ambas­sadors remained resilient, resource­ful, and engaged through the months, work­ing with the alum­ni com­mu­ni­ty, appli­cants, final­ists, CLS vir­tu­al schol­ars, CLS staff and oth­ers in their com­mu­ni­ties to share their expe­ri­ences and rep­re­sent the program.


In Jan­u­ary, 23 alum­ni of the 2019 CLS Pro­gram became the new cohort of 2020 Alum­ni Ambas­sadors, rep­re­sent­ing 14 of the 15 CLS lan­guages and 19 pro­gram sites. Select­ed Alum­ni Ambas­sadors came from 22 dif­fer­ent U.S. high­er edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions and 17 U.S. states, Puer­to Rico, and the Dis­trict of Columbia. 

Monique Bowie (Turk­ish 2019) shares her sto­ry in an interview

Dur­ing the first week of March, the 2020 Alum­ni Ambas­sadors gath­ered in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. for the 10th annu­al Alum­ni Ambas­sador Forum, to engage in pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment and train­ing. Alum­ni Ambas­sadors net­worked with CLS Pro­gram staff, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the U.S. Depart­ment of State Bureau of Edu­ca­tion­al and Cul­tur­al Affairs and each oth­er dur­ing the event. They learned key com­po­nents of serv­ing as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pro­gram and enjoyed hands-on work­shops on top­ics such as pub­lic speak­ing, event plan­ning, and shar­ing the impact of the pro­gram with elect­ed representatives. 

Syn­dey Ward (WA-07) arrives for her appoint­ment with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal (WA-07)

On March 5, twelve Alum­ni Ambas­sadors vis­it­ed with their U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ offices on Capi­tol Hill. Alum­ni shared their per­son­al sto­ries about the impact of the CLS Pro­gram on their lives. Alum­ni vis­it­ed with rep­re­sen­ta­tives and their staff from Ari­zona, Flori­da, Geor­gia, Hawaii, Mary­land, New York, Ore­gon, Texas, Utah, Wash­ing­ton, and Wis­con­sin. Of his vis­it with Con­gress­man John Ruther­ford (FL-04), Kian Thomas (Japan­ese 2019) said, We shared sto­ries of how study abroad has impact­ed our respec­tive lives and had a fruit­ful con­ver­sa­tion.” Alum­ni Ambas­sadors enjoyed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank their rep­re­sen­ta­tives for sup­port­ing inter­na­tion­al exchange.


In mid-March as life changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly in response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, Alum­ni Ambas­sadors found cre­ative ways to engage with the CLS com­mu­ni­ty and prospec­tive appli­cants despite the new chal­lenges. Kian Thomas (Japan­ese 2019) used his time at home to reach out to his elect­ed offi­cials and urged oth­er alum­ni to call their elect­ed offi­cials and those in adja­cent dis­tricts for mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions about sup­port for inter­na­tion­al exchange pro­grams. Mile­na Djord­je­vic-Kisacanin (Per­sian 2019) vol­un­teered her time tutor­ing stu­dents online to main­tain their lan­guage skills while they were away from the classroom.

Joy Car­iño (Indone­sian 2019) col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Mis­sis­sip­pi State Uni­ver­si­ty Hon­ors Col­lege to offer a vir­tu­al infor­ma­tion ses­sion cov­er­ing the CLS, Ful­bright, and Boren pro­grams. The event was well attend­ed with 18 stu­dents tun­ing in to hear about these programs.

Conor McMa­hon (Chi­nese 2019) was fea­tured in a Where Are They Now” series by his alma mater, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Buf­fa­lo. He spoke in the inter­view about his expe­ri­ence on the CLS Pro­gram, high­light­ing the immer­sion expe­ri­ence of liv­ing with a host fam­i­ly, and shar­ing that, of all of the lan­guage pro­grams he has par­tic­i­pat­ed in, CLS has been by far the most orga­nized and it pushed me the fur­thest. If you want to take a step for­ward in lan­guage study, there’s no bet­ter way to do it.”

Syd­ney Ward (Ara­bic 2019) wrote an arti­cle on her blog as a guide for how stu­dents should pack for a study abroad pro­gram in the Mid­dle East. She drew on her expe­ri­ence on the CLS Pro­gram in Jor­dan as well on the YES Pro­gram in Moroc­co as a high school stu­dent. In her arti­cle, she dis­cuss­es cloth­ing choic­es based on cli­mate and cul­ture, toi­letries, elec­tron­ics, study mate­ri­als, host fam­i­ly gifts, and oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions. She also cre­at­ed a PDF pack­ing check­list that stu­dents can use when prepar­ing to go abroad. 


Begin­ning in mid-June, Kian Thomas (Japan­ese 2019) orga­nized a series of vir­tu­al lan­guage tables” as a space for lan­guage prac­tice for CLS alum­ni and oth­er lan­guage stu­dents in Span­ish, Per­sian, Urdu, Man­darin, and Por­tuguese. Each lan­guage table was led by a vol­un­teer speak­er of the lan­guage, some of whom where CLS alum­ni. Manuel Melen­dez (Japan­ese 2019) led the Span­ish Lan­guage Table. Kian has been orga­niz­ing these lan­guage tables week­ly on an ongo­ing basis and has found them to be very successful. 

Kore­an Alum­ni Ambas­sadors host a cof­fee chat

Cur­rent and pre­vi­ous Alum­ni Ambas­sadors con­nect­ed with CLS Vir­tu­al Kore­an stu­dents dur­ing a cof­fee chat event. Patrick Nice­foro (2014 & 2016), Paula Zhang (2017), Han­nah Cole (2018), Ramisa Mur­shed (2019), and Dar­lene Jan­ice Nieves-Cruz (2019) gave a warm wel­come to the soon-to-be new alum­ni. Join­ing from Geor­gia, Hawaii, Illi­nois, Puer­to Rico, and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the alum­ni answered schol­ars’ ques­tions regard­ing fel­low­ship and schol­ar­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources for con­tin­ued lan­guage learning. 

Chi­nese Alum­ni Ambas­sadors Eric Brink (Chi­nese 2019), Conor McMa­hon (Chi­nese 2019), and Kim­ber Young (Chi­nese 2019) host­ed an infor­mal online video chat with the par­tic­i­pants of the sum­mer vir­tu­al Chi­nese pro­gram to wel­come them to the alum­ni community.


With the appli­ca­tion for the 2020 CLS Pro­gram open from mid-August to mid-Novem­ber, Alum­ni Ambas­sadors were busy engag­ing in a vari­ety of vir­tu­al out­reach to and sup­port of prospec­tive appli­cants to the 2021 CLS Program. 

Brid­get O’Con­nor (Japan­ese 2019) speaks dur­ing an infor­ma­tion ses­sion at San­ta Mon­i­ca College
  • Alum­ni Ambas­sadors par­tic­i­pat­ed on all but two infor­ma­tion­al webi­na­rs orga­nized by the pro­gram. Kait­lyn Johnson (Russ­ian 2019) joined Pro­gram Offi­cer Jon Pos­er for the Russ­ian-spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion ses­sion and Syd­ney Ward (Ara­bic 2019) joined Pro­gram Offi­cer Esha Bera for the Ara­bic-spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion ses­sion. Aisac Accad (Indone­sian 2019) shared her expe­ri­ence as a begin­ner lan­guage stu­dent at the ses­sion for begin­ning lev­el lan­guages, host­ed by Pro­gram Assis­tant Jes­si­ca Klink and Pro­gram Offi­cer Jon Poser.
  • Kian Thomas (Japan­ese 2019) spoke to 20 stu­dents at a gen­er­al meet­ing of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da Japan­ese Club to pro­mote the CLS appli­ca­tion to its members. 
  • Brid­get O’Connor (Japan­ese 2019) held vir­tu­al infor­ma­tion ses­sions with Loy­ola Mary­mount Uni­ver­si­ty (where she is a cur­rent stu­dent), Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii Hilo, and Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii Manoa, San­ta Mon­i­ca Col­lege, and Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty Los Ange­les to present an infor­ma­tion ses­sion on CLS. Brid­get also joined Pro­gram Offi­cer Sye­jeong Kim for a vir­tu­al infor­ma­tion ses­sion at Kapi­olani Com­mu­ni­ty College. 
  • Joy Car­iño (Indone­sian 2019) spoke to stu­dents online at Japan­ese and Chi­nese class­es at Mis­sis­sip­pi State Uni­ver­si­ty about the CLS Pro­gram. She shared infor­ma­tion about the pro­gram and her expe­ri­ence and answered stu­dents’ ques­tions about appli­ca­tion tips and how to pre­pare for study­ing abroad. She also spoke to hon­ors stu­dents at East Mis­sis­sip­pi Com­mu­ni­ty College.
  • Madeleine Rodish (Ara­bic 2019) pre­sent­ed mul­ti­ple CLS infor­ma­tion ses­sions and an essay writ­ing work­shop at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Office of Nation­al­ly Com­pet­i­tive Scholarships. 
  • Dar­lene Jan­ice Nieves Cruz (Kore­an 2019) orga­nized an online infor­ma­tion ses­sion for stu­dents in Puer­to Rico to famil­iar­ize them with the CLS Pro­gram. Dozens of stu­dents attend­ed from the three main cam­pus­es of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Puer­to Rico as well as Uni­ver­si­dad del Sagra­do Corazón. Through­out the hour and a half ses­sion, stu­dents asked a mul­ti­tude of ques­tions about the pro­gram and the appli­ca­tion process. 
  • The Uni­ver­si­ty of Guam wel­comed Dar­lene Jan­ice Nieves Cruz (Kore­an 2019) and Brid­get O’Con­nor (Japan­ese 2019) at an infor­ma­tion ses­sion led by Pro­gram Offi­cer Sye­jeong Kim. The Alum­ni Ambas­sadors enjoyed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with stu­dents rep­re­sent­ing the geo­graph­ic diver­si­ty of the U.S. as they joined the ses­sion from Puer­to Rico and Hawaii, respec­tive­ly. While shar­ing the pro­gram ben­e­fits, Dar­lene said, In addi­tion to fur­ther devel­op­ing my Kore­an lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy, par­tic­i­pat­ing on the CLS Pro­gram helped me to real­ly improve my time man­age­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. I use these soft skills every day in my new posi­tion as a pro­gram assis­tant at an NGO and feel grate­ful for the lessons I’ve learned on the program.” 
  • Nikidrea Rey (Russ­ian 2019) joined Alum­ni Engage­ment Offi­cer Liz Sin­clair for a vir­tu­al infor­ma­tion ses­sion with Spel­man Col­lege. Nikidrea spoke about her expe­ri­ence on the pro­gram and her advice to applicants.
  • Syd­ney Ward (Ara­bic 2019) worked with the Office of Mer­it, Schol­ar­ships, and Fel­low­ships at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton-Seat­tle to give an online pre­sen­ta­tion on the CLS Program.
  • Ramisa Mur­shed (Kore­an 2019) and Syd­ney Ward (Ara­bic 2019) joined Alum­ni Engage­ment Offi­cer Liz Sin­clair for a vir­tu­al infor­ma­tion ses­sion with Vir­ginia Wes­leyan University.
  • Many Alum­ni Ambas­sadors worked indi­vid­u­al­ly with appli­cants to talk about their expe­ri­ences on the pro­gram and sup­port them through the appli­ca­tion process.

While the fall CLS vir­tu­al insti­tutes were tak­ing place, Joy Car­iño (Indone­sian 2019), Brid­get O’Con­nor (Japan­ese 2019), Conor McMa­hon (Chi­nese 2019), and Kim­ber Young (Chi­nese 2019) orga­nized lan­guage-spe­cif­ic Cof­fee Chat events for CLS schol­ars par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Vir­tu­al Insti­tutes to con­nect with the alum­ni community. 

Sarah Stack­house (Urdu 2019) installs Rain­works in her community

Sarah Stack­house (Urdu 2019), also an alum­na of the Rotary Youth Exchange pro­gram, has been active­ly sup­port­ing her com­mu­ni­ty and oth­ers through her vol­un­teer work as a mem­ber of the Eau Claire Morn­ing Rotary Club. She and her fel­low Rotar­i­ans orga­nized a Nepalese food dona­tion project, rais­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to sup­port those in Nepal who have expe­ri­enced food short­age due to COVID-19. In addi­tion, Sarah recent­ly orga­nized a project in her local com­mu­ni­ty, called R&R: Rotary and Rain­works. This project brought Rain­works, a form of street art that is invis­i­ble until it becomes wet, to the side­walks of Eau Claire, WI. Sarah says, we were look­ing for a club ser­vice project that would allow us to be social­ly dis­tanced dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, while also still doing some­thing to uplift the spir­its in our com­mu­ni­ty.” The street art includes images and mes­sages designed to make view­ers smile.

To get to know our Alum­ni Ambas­sadors, you can read their pro­files here.