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Six Syracuse University Students Receive Prestigious Critical Language Scholarship
Six Syracuse University students have been selected as recipients of the Critical Language Scholarship, through which they will immerse themselves in intensive language study this summer. Additionally, three students were named as alternates.
The recipients and the languages they will study are:
- Courtney Blankenship, a first-year master’s degree student in international relations in the Maxwell School also pursuing certificates of advanced study in security studies and Middle Eastern affairs, studying Arabic;
- Jenna Burgess ’21, a senior international relations major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School and a minor in linguistics in A&S, studying Korean;
- Sarah Forland G’21, a dual degree public diplomacy graduate student in international relations in the Maxwell School and public relations in the Newhouse School, studying Portuguese;
- Jeremy Gonzalez, a first-year graduate student pursuing a joint master’s degree in public administration and international relations in the Maxwell School, studying Bahasa Indonesian;
- Roger Onofre G’21, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in international relations in the Maxwell School, studying Arabic; and
- Charlotte Volpe G’21, a graduate student pursuing a joint master’s degree in public administration and international relations in the Maxwell School, studying Urdu.
The students selected as alternates are:
- Claire Howard ’23, a sophomore in economics and international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, studying Arabic;
- Angela Jumbeck, an M.P.A. student in the Maxwell School, studying Swahili; and
- Scott Patnode, a first-year graduate student in international relations in the Maxwell School, studying Persian.
The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program is an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Traditionally, some 550 students spend eight to 10 weeks abroad studying one of 15 languages—Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu. The program is fully funded and includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. This year, because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, most experiences will happen remotely.
CLS, a program of the U.S. Department of State, is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity.
Blankenship will participate in a virtual Arabic program through Noor Majan Training Institute in Oman this summer. She believes there is great value in language learning because it allows students to meet and interact with people in a way that may not be possible otherwise.
“Though I have been interested in Arabic since childhood, I did not have the opportunity to learn it formally until after my undergraduate studies when I moved to Morocco for Peace Corps service,” Blankenship says. “For 18 months, I had the opportunity to learn and practice Moroccan Arabic (Darija) until I was evacuated due to the pandemic, and I look forward to expanding upon my language abilities during the CLS program.”
After completing the CLS program and graduating from Syracuse University, Blankenship plans to continue developing her Arabic language skills and knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to pursue a career as a U.S. foreign service officer.
Burgess is awaiting word as to whether her CLS experience will be held remotely or abroad in Korea.
“This will be a really meaningful experience for me, as I studied in Seoul in 2019 and absolutely love South Korea,” she says. “Although that was a great experience as well, I felt I did not get to integrate myself into the host culture as much as I had hoped, and I was in a sort of bubble with the other Western students sometimes. So, during CLS I am hoping to make more connections within South Korea and with local people, and to experience more immersion into the culture and society.”
Burgess has been a preschool teacher at the University’s Bernice M. Wright Laboratory School for two years. She wants to keep working in early childhood education, and combine it with her degree in linguistics to work in bilingual education. “In these programs, preschool children attend classrooms conducted in two languages to build bilingual fluency and literacy from an early age,” Burgess says. “I hope to work in and design lesson plans for Korean-English classrooms in the United States, and I hope the CLS will help me further advance my language skills to reach that goal.”
Forland will be studying remotely this summer. “I am honored to be selected as a finalist and am excited to participate to build my language skills and fluency in Portuguese,” she says.
As a public diplomacy and global communications student, she is interested in emerging challenges in global communications such as mis- and disinformation, online influence campaigns and purposeful attempts to discredit the independent media. “Gaining foreign language experience and cultural understanding can help identify how misinformation and disinformation campaigns spread and gain traction across different cultures and communities,” Forland says.
“These vulnerabilities can have serious consequences on national stability, growth and governing institutions. I hope to use the language skills I gain through CLS to work with organizations that are addressing these vulnerabilities in order to create secure information spaces both at home and abroad,” she says.
Gonzalez will also be studying virtually. “Language helps us to connect with others and helps us to build cross-cultural bridges. It is more important, now than ever, for us to understand our place, not only as Americans but as global citizens,” he says.
“I hope to build on the language skills I picked up during my time in Indonesia as a Peace Corps volunteer,” Gonzalez says. “Ultimately, I want to use my language skills to represent the United States in Southeast Asia as a foreign service officer.”
Onofre’s program will not be in person in Jordan, but he is looking at options to be in Amman during the program for a more immersive experience.
Being awarded the CLS has given Onofre the motivation to continue his Arabic language studies, which he has been working on since his study abroad program in the fall of 2017. “Arabic is a difficult language, and it takes dedication and patience to become fluent,” he says. “I am excited to continue my intensive, yet immersive, language studies through this program.”
Onofre previously completed Gilman and Fulbright programs in Morocco. “I hope to achieve a fluent level of Arabic that will allow me to combine my studies in international affairs, experiences in policy and knowledge of the region to bring more development to the Middle East,” he says.
Volpe will also be studying remotely. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to study Urdu after having studied Hindi both at Syracuse and in Jaipur, India, at the American Institute of Indian Studies,” she says. “I hope to complement my Hindi language skills by diving into Urdu study this summer through the CLS program.”
“I hope to use my language skills to support collaborative foreign policy engagements between the U.S. and India addressing global warming, immigration and fair labor policies,” Volpe says.