Undergrads Win Critical Language Scholarships to Study Overseas
July 2, 2014
Addison Larson is not too worried about the blistering heat and dusty terrain of Oman, where she is spending this summer learning Arabic.
“I’m well-prepared, coming from West Texas,” Larson said.
The Midland native wants to pursue a career in urban planning and development in the Middle East or North Africa. This summer, she hopes to improve her fluency in Arabic and gain a deeper knowledge of Arab culture.
Larson is one of three UT Dallas students — and about 550 from across the U.S. — who have been granted a Critical Language Scholarship for Intensive Summer Institutes from the U.S. State Department.
Adam Mendonca, an electrical engineering freshman, is studying Mandarin in Suzhou, China. Biology senior Roxanne Lee had to decline her scholarship due to a conflict with her duties related to starting medical school.
Since 2008, nine UT Dallas students have received Critical Language Scholarships. The program supports summer language institutes to help more Americans master 13 critical foreign languages needed for diplomacy and trade, including Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Punjabi, Russian and Turkish.
Recipients spend seven to 10 weeks studying the language. They are expected to continue their language study after the program and use their skills in a future career.
Larson said her interest in Arab culture goes back to childhood when an Arab Palestinian friend introduced her to the culture and food.
She said that after she read Arabic comic books she began thinking about cultural differences and how to bridge the gap.
After studying Arabic for a year at UT Dallas, Larson said she is at the “advanced beginner” level, and has become more interested in the Middle East.
UT Dallas recipients of the Critical Language Scholarship and their destination countries:
Adam Mendonca, China
Addison Larson, Oman
Irene Morse, Oman
Allison-Leigh Beatty, China
Samia Hossain, Jordan
Dina Shahrokhi, Morocco
Stacey Knepp, Jordan
Molly Wurzer, Tunisia
Nehe Firoze, India
“Once you start studying a language, you become passionate about the culture and the country,” Larson said.
In Oman, she will be immersed in Arabic, taking classes and living at the Noor Majan Training Institute in Ibri, a small mountain town bordered by a large desert that connects to Saudi Arabia.
“I’ve never been to the Middle East, so I don’t know what to expect. But my experience with Arab people has always been wonderful,” Larson said.
Larson, an international political economy sophomore and an Academic Excellence Scholar, said she switched her major from mechanical engineering after taking a Collegium V course on ethics in computer science and engineering.
“I realized I was pouring a disproportionate amount of time into that one course,” Larson said. “It made me realize that I was more interested in studying the social sciences and the human condition than the technical sciences. That began my pivot on majors.”
“I really think she’s found her intellectual home,” Dow said. “She has a lot of linguistic competencies, and is one of the most upbeat, enthusiastic people I know, full of energy and gusto. She will thrive in the intense social experience of being part of a group learning team.”
Mendonca, who is a McDermott Scholar, wants to become fluent in Chinese so that he can one day communicate with colleagues in the telecommunications industry.
Though he lived in China for three years during elementary school, he lost fluency over time from not speaking Mandarin regularly.
“Speaking proficiently is what hammers it in,” Mendonca said. “On paper, I can make it out, but when I’m speaking Mandarin I have to translate it in my mind to formulate a response. I want to be able to think in Chinese.”
Dow said Mendonca is the first freshman from UT Dallas to receive the scholarship.
“Studying Chinese is a passion he’s developed and systematically pursued. Adam is an outstanding scholar, and it’s been a real privilege to have him in class. He’s comfortable being outside his comfort zone, which makes him a great candidate for this scholarship,” Dow said.
While attending high school in Fayetteville, Ark., Mendonca enrolled in a Chinese school to regain his language skills and also took a college-level Mandarin class. Now, he hopes this summer’s experience will bring him back up to speed.
“I want to be able to communicate when I’m on business trips someday, and also with those from China who come here,” Mendonca said.