Bragging Rights: Students Win Critical-Need Language Scholarships

Posted: July 12, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

By Robin Herron

Three Mason students were awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study abroad this summer.

The students are

  • Margaret (Mattie) Albert, who is studying Arabic in Egypt
  • Rebecca Chenette, who is studying Bangla/Bengali in Bangladesh
  • John (Ivan) Yagersky, who is studying Arabic in Jordan

The students are among 575 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students selected from nearly 5,300 applicants.

Scholarship recipients are spending seven to 10 weeks in intensive language institutes and cultural immersion activities in 15 countries this summer. Languages considered critical need are Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Persian, Russian, Indic (Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu) and Turkic (Turkish and Azerbaijani).

CLS Program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their skills in their future professional careers.

Mattie Albert. Photo courtesy of Mattie Albert

Albert is a rising senior majoring in economics with a minor in data analysis. She has already spent one month in Egypt and will return in August.

While Albert has studied Arabic at Mason for several semesters, she says in an e-mail, “I know that nothing replaces the experience of studying the language where it is spoken. The CLS provides the unique opportunity to study Arabic in a structured environment with an emphasis on cultural immersion, and I am very grateful to be participating in the program.”

She adds, “I have come to appreciate and understand the language in an intimate way through the exposure to Egyptians and Arabs of all religious, economic and social backgrounds. Because of this experience I am further convinced of my desire to work on sustainable development issues in the Middle East, and I look forward to returning to the region as soon as possible. This truly has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”

Ivan Yagersky. Photo courtesy of Ivan Yagersky

Yagersky, a senior who will graduate this fall, is majoring in film and video studies with a minor in conflict analysis and resolution.

Like Albert, Yagersky has already spent several weeks abroad and will return in August.

He describes himself in an e-mail as a “working student” and explains that he was looking for a change in his schedule and an opportunity to travel abroad and focus on Arabic language study. The scholarship eased the financial burden as well.

“The CLS Program covers virtually all costs and awards participants a stipend, making it an ideal choice for me. All I had to do was set aside enough money to sustain a two-month absence, and that was easy, considering we were notified of acceptance in March.

“Additionally, it was becoming harder for me to dedicate significant time to language study, and the prospect of two months of Arabic language immersion for the sake of taking my Arabic language skills to a whole new level of proficiency was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”

While Yagersky admits the program has been demanding and somewhat overwhelming initially, he says he is both enjoying the experience and seeing immediate results.

“I am highly motivated by the significant gains I am already witnessing in speaking, listening, reading and writing Arabic, both formal and informal.”

Rebecca Chenette. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chenette

Junior Chenette is a global affairs major, with minors in Latin and economics. This is her third CLS; she loves languages.

“When I applied to the program as a freshman, I was looking for an opportunity for an international experience as well as language study.  I had studied Latin, Spanish and Russian (and loved them), but wanted to learn a language outside of the Romantic-Slavic family.”

Although her scholarship ends in August, Chenette decided to take off the fall semester off “to immerse myself in Bangla and volunteer.”

She adds, “Since it’s my third time, it’s not a new experience to be here. But I love the language very much. When I first came here in 2008, it was major culture shock on many levels. My head was filled with, ‘How can they eat with their hand and still look dignified? Can I please just have some fresh vegetables? Why is it so dirty? AAAH, a giant cockroach!’ But now it’s so much easier to enjoy the culture. I eat with my hand, ride rickshaws, wear salwar-chamise and saris and speak Bangla. It’s fantastic. Perhaps my favorite thing to do is watch the sun go down on the city from the roof of our five-story flat.”

The Department of State launched the CLS for Intensive Summer Institutes in 2006 to increase opportunities for American students to study critical-need languages overseas. The program is part of a wider U.S. government effort to dramatically expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical-need languages.

The program is administered by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the American Councils for International Education.

For more information about the CLS Program, see the website.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu