Sarah S. '21 has spent a good part of her summer participating in an intensive study of the Chinese language. Sarah was awarded a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Virtual Summer Intensive scholarship to study Mandarin Chinese for five weeks this summer. NSLI-Y is a program of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) that promotes critical language learning among American youth. The program, which usually involves an overseas immersion experience, was converted to a virtual format in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah, competitively selected from approximately 3,000 applicants from across the United States, is one of approximately 500 students who studied Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, or Turkish this summer as part of the virtual exchange. Sarah enjoyed robust language and cultural learning opportunities by virtually connecting with teachers, international peers, cultural organizations, and communities where Mandarin Chinese is spoken.
Sarah shares that her love for Chinese has been cultivated at Emma, and that's what motivated her to apply for the program in order to further her short and long-term goals. In Sarah's own words:
I remember the moment I decided that I would be taking Chinese in high school. It was the spring of my eighth grade year and I downloaded a Chinese learning app. This app became my best friend, as I would use it every day after school. I was instantly intrigued by the complexity and beauty of the language. It was all so new and fun for me! When I got to Emma that fall and started taking real Chinese classes for the first time my interest just grew bigger and bigger. Chinese is simply fascinating and when Mr. Sundin is your teacher, the beauties of Chinese are magnified. Taking Mr. Sundin’s Chinese class the past three years has served not only to teach me the ins and outs of Chinese grammar, but has also served as a tremendous source of motivation and inspiration for me in my Chinese aspirations.
As I progress in my Chinese learning journey, my relationship with Chinese grows more profound each day. Chinese has enabled me to step out of my own cultural bubble and has given me the opportunity to experience a culture and language different than my own. My appreciation for the language and culture has allowed me to develop a greater cultural familiarity with people different from me, and in turn has expanded the lens through which I view the world. Chinese has done this for me for the past three years and continues to do so.
My love for Chinese motivated me to apply to NSLI-Y. I wanted a time where I could solely dedicate myself to Chinese. I wanted to be put in a culturally-immersive, academically-intense, structured environment where I would be constantly challenged to keep improving. About a month and a half into the program, I can say that NSLI-Y has fulfilled my hopes and more. In this program, I’ve discovered abilities that I didn’t know I had. I’ve expanded substantially on previously acquired skills and formed new ones. My previous Chinese cultural knowledge and understanding has grown more profound, and I have developed a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of the language. I am beyond thankful for this experience!
Although I am sad to see my program end soon, I know that there is still so much more in store. My Chinese learning journey is a life-long one and the skills, knowledge, and passion that I’ve developed in the NSLI-Y program and at Emma thus far will aid me in my future pursuits. I plan to continue studying Chinese in college next year. Even after I am not learning Chinese in a classroom setting anymore, I know that Chinese will always be a part of my life—in my personal life and future career. I hope that in our rapidly-changing, especially global world, more people can experience what I’ve experienced with falling in love with Chinese or with any language or culture different than their own and appreciate what that means in relation to the world around them: an opportunity to cultivate empathy, cultural sensitivity, and seeing beyond oneself and what we’ve always known.
NSLI-Y is part of an initiative to improve Americans' ability to communicate in critical languages, advance international dialogue, and provide Americans with skills for the global economy. Many participants go on to pursue education and careers vital to U.S. national security and credit the program experience with helping them improve their academic, leadership, and cross-cultural communication skills.
Congratulations on your great accomplishments, Sarah! We look forward to seeing how you use them to serve and shape your world.