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Oregon State University Student Spends Summer in Russia with the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship
Oregon State University student Miriam Lipton spent the summer studying Russian in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia as an awardee of the 2019 U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program.
The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. CLS scholars gain critical language and cultural skills in languages that are less commonly taught in U.S. schools, but are essential for America’s engagement with the world, contributing to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.
In 2019, Miriam was one of only 550 competitively selected American students representing 233 colleges and universities across the United States to receive a CLS award. Each CLS scholar spent eight to ten weeks in one of 26 locations studying Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.
The program provides funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. CLS scholars serve as citizen ambassadors, representing the diversity of the United States abroad and building lasting relationships with people in their host countries. Alumni of the program go on to continue their language study and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.
The application for the 2020 CLS Program is available at https://clscholarship.org. Applications are due November 19 at 8:00pm Eastern Time.
Intensive Language Instruction Abroad
Each CLS institute develops a specific academic curriculum that takes into consideration the host culture and language level of the participating scholars. CLS institutes also present multiple, diverse outlets for students to practice what they study outside of classrooms. Guest speakers diversify class time, teach students about the host culture, and help them to practice listening to different native speakers. In Indonesia this summer, scholars discussed Indonesian herbal medicine with a maker of Jamu, a traditional Indonesian herbal drink, while scholars in Oman visited the historical center of Ibadi Islam in Dakhiliya where they learn about the region’s history through conversations in Arabic with Omanis. One student described his experience with a local museum owner:
Throughout the tour of the old house, the owner taught us about the history of the region and showed us how natives used to keep time by old sun clocks. He passionately discussed the importance of the culture in Arabic. While there were a few words we didn't understand, I was amazed by how well we were able to converse with him from the few short weeks we've been here.
In addition to learning about the host community’s culture, the CLS Program’s cultural programming also incorporates activities related to the economic development of that particular region. Students on the Punjabi program visited a small village outside of Chandigarh, India where they toured the rice, corn and sugarcane fields, and discussed Indian labor economics with a local farmer.
Immersive Language Learning with Host Families
Over 75% of CLS scholars are housed with local host families during their experience. Scholars who are not housed with a host family are generally placed with local roommates to maintain an immersive language environment. Living with a host family gives scholars opportunities to practice speaking organically in a comfortable environment, learn about daily life, discuss current events, and take part in national customs and celebrations.
Every day after school I would come home to my aunt making dinner. ‘Halcy--tea, fruit?’ she would always ask. In the time it took me to drink my tea, she would tell me about her favorite traditional dishes, her family's ties to Karabakh, and would answer any questions I had about Azerbaijani culture and language. Once I made a peach cobbler for the family, so my aunt and I worked alongside each other in the kitchen. It was this relationship I had with my xala that truly made me feel that I was part of the family.
Each CLS scholar is also paired with a local peer for the duration of their intensive summer language course. “Language partners” on the CLS Program enhances students’ language acquisition and cultural adaptation. Weekly meetings with language partners help students adapt and integrate to the host community, learn colloquial language, and join in diverse social circles.
These connections help ease students’ transition into the host community and establish a support an expanding network despite the demanding academic schedule. Many students also recognize that spending time with their language partners is one of the best ways to engage with the host culture.
Meeting with my language partner has been one of my favorite parts of the CLS Program. Not only have we become good friends, but our relationship has supported my language development and acclimation to the city immensely. It provides me a comfortable space to test out phrases from class and receive advice on getting around the city and handling different cultural situations.
Blended and Topical Learning
In addition to comprehensive language textbooks, teachers incorporate various materials such as news videos, documentaries, newspapers, and magazines to communicate current affairs and important social events in host cultures. The courses emphasize the function of dialogue and discussions about topical issues as language learning processes of acquiring knowledge, conveying ideas, and reflecting on their own values. Furthermore, students are provided many opportunities to apply the background knowledge and language skills gained in class during cultural activities and excursions.
The focus and dedication of the instructors in Amman, Jordan have built both my depth of relevant vocabulary alongside confidence in storytelling to move out of my limited capacity. For example, in my taxi this weekend, the driver and I spoke in Arabic about our dream careers.
Programs may incorporate a final project, and many students choose to delve into their specific fields of study or interests with the help of their teachers. In addition to 20 hours of language classes each week, individual consultations are an important way for students to get feedback and continue working toward their language-related goals. CLS Swahili participant Katrina E., had the opportunity to work with her teacher to gain the necessary vocabulary to write her final report on opportunities and challenges for women in entrepreneurship and business in Tanzania.
As an International Business and Economics major, I am very interested in how business can develop a community, especially for historically marginalized groups. By using my language skills to talk with female shop-owners, farmers, and other community members, I learned how small businesses are a great opportunity for women to gain independence and provide for their family and communities.
Every aspect of the CLS Program is designed to contribute to language learning. The result is that students on the CLS Program make significant gains in their language skills in only eight short weeks before returning and applying those skills to their academic and professional careers. A full breakdown of the language gains made by scholars on the CLS Program since 2010 is available at https://clscholarship.org/impact/language-learning.
The majority of CLS Program alumni in the workforce report that the language skills they gained through the CLS Program had made them a more competitive candidate for their jobs. Over 91% report that participation on the CLS Program influenced their career goals and 62% use intercultural communication skills they gained on the program in their jobs.
You can learn more about the impact of the CLS Program at https://clscholarship.org/impact.
The CLS Program runs every summer and is open to American undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities. The application for the 2020 CLS Program is available at https://clscholarship.org. Applications are due November 19 at 8:00pm Eastern Time.
For further information about the Critical Language Scholarship or other exchange programs offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, please contact ECA-Press@state.gov and visit our websites at https://clscholarship.org and https://studyabroad.state.gov.