Meet Anna Stewart! Anna is a two-time CLS Hindi alumna and a Program Manager with the NSLI-Y Program at American Councils for International Education. In celebration of International Education Week, the CLS team sat down with Anna to hear about her CLS experience and how studying abroad opened her eyes to a career in international education.
What motivated you to study Hindi through the CLS Program?
I started studying Hindi as an undergraduate student on campus and in India. I was a double major in anthropology and dance, and my regional focus was South Asia. As an undergraduate student, I went abroad for the first time to India with the support and guidance of one of my professors. I went on my own and knew I was going to return to India before I even left.
I wanted to continue my language studies to support my research and studies in graduate school, but I had a difficult time locating formal Hindi classes even in a city like Washington, D.C. The academic rigor, immersion component, and the fully-funded components of the CLS Program were all very appealing to me. Coming from a lower-economic background in Appalachia with family who had never been overseas, made it difficult to find funding and support to go overseas. CLS gave me the confidence and know-how to continue to engage in a global setting which really boosted my graduate studies, future career path, and subsequent international experiences.
Can you share one of the most memorable moments of your CLS Program?
I had so many amazing and memorable moments during my time in Jaipur, India, which motivated me to apply for the program twice! Some of my closest friends to date are from my CLS cohort and I am still occasionally in touch with my language partner, host family, and instructors.
My most memorable moments were the little everyday experiences like catching a rickshaw and seeing the driver’s delight when I was able to converse with them in Hindi or finding out that I was living with a host family and not headed back to a touristy hotel, or spending time with a language partner or host sister at a cafe and learning what was important to them.
Reflecting back, being able to spend dedicated time where my sole job was to focus on language studies and cultural immersion is such a unique experience and a privilege.
How did CLS and your study abroad experiences lead you to a career in international education?
My first experience abroad in India as an undergraduate student changed my life. I had never been abroad and knew very few people who had. As a first-generation college student, figuring out college was hard enough, let alone going overseas. The more I learned about the larger world outside of my small town in Appalachia, the more frustrated I was about what I was not learning and what I was not being exposed to.
I eventually found myself in graduate school focused on how international development could and should prioritize local voices and diverse perspectives. My CLS experiences made me realize that initiatives like the CLS Program equip individuals with the skills to better communicate across real or imagined borders, empathize, and foster mutual respect and understanding. I was also motivated by the fact that the CLS program creates access and opportunity for those who may not otherwise have it, like my younger self.
Participating in CLS made me realize the support I was missing my first time abroad. It motivated me to want to support others through this process. One of my first jobs after graduate school was working on study abroad programs in India and preparing students for their time abroad. Since then, I have been lucky to work with many students going to different countries.
Can you tell us about your role working on the NSLI-Y Program at American Councils?
The NSLI-Y Program, similar to CLS, is a U.S. Department of State program focused on critical language immersion for secondary students ages 15-18 years old. As a Program Manager, I oversee a portfolio of language programs across ten countries. This includes working with partner institutions overseas on the implementation of the program, preparing students for their program once they have been selected, and supporting students throughout their time on the program. I am proud to see many NSLI-Y alumni go onto apply and participate in the CLS Program after their NSLI-Y experience!
What do you love most about your work?
I love working with our colleagues overseas to implement NSLI-Y and seeing firsthand the impact those programs have on our students. NSLI-Y participants continue to awe me with their personal and linguistic growth during the program. It is motivating to see how they creatively use this experience and language skills across different academic fields and professions. I also love seeing American students learn about the diversity of the U.S. from their peers and watching those peer networks grow. Knowing that my work helps build a generation of students who are so globally minded is rewarding.
What are you celebrating during this year's International Education Week?
This year for International Education Week, I am celebrating the NSLI-Y students who have remained committed to studying critical languages and stayed globally connected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even if that meant taking virtual classes across many time zones. I am proud and inspired by their determination and resilience.
Why do you feel it is important for more U.S. citizens and nationals to speak critical languages?
Aside from my own personal interest and enjoyment in learning languages, I think learning critical languages and building cultural awareness is a requirement for sustaining global relationships and fostering empathy and mutual understanding, both in the U.S. and abroad.