NSLI-Y program helps students begin international journeys

1 year ago

The reasons a student might choose to participate in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program are varied. For two ASMSA students selected for the program this summer, the differences couldn’t be more pronounced.

Kennedy Neely (’17) wants to possibly work for the U.S. Department of State one day. Joanne Lee (’18) wishes to learn more about her family’s culture and history. Through the NSLI-Y program, they will have the opportunity to start their journeys.

NSLI-Y is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages through overseas immersion programs.

Neely will travel to Jordan for six weeks to begin learning Arabic. She’ll live with a family in the capital Amman and attend the Qasid Arabic Institute. She said a trip to Japan last summer during which she lived with a host family will make it easier to adapt for this trip.

“It makes it more exciting and less nerve wracking,” Neeley said. “Even though there is a language barrier, I’m capable of being on my own away from home.”

NSLI-Y allows applicants to choose from seven languages, including Mandarin Chinese and Russian among others. Neely said Arabic was her first choice but she would have been happy with any of the choices.

The program promises a good foundation in whichever language the student in which the student is immersed. “They say the level will be the same as a beginning course in college,” Neely said.

She’s planning to take advantage of the head start by minoring in Arabic at the University of Central Arkansas, where she will continue her college studies in the fall. She will pair that with a major in either political science or international studies. Neely then plans to follow that up with a law degree that will lead to a career in diplomacy.

Lee will spend seven weeks in Seoul, South Korea, where she will attend classes at the Ewha Womans University. For Lee it’s a homecoming of sorts. Her father’s family is from the Seoul area. Her mother’s family is closer to the rural southern section of Korea. Her parents emigrated from South Korea to the United States when they were young. Lee’s grandparents stayed in Korea.

“I’m hoping to learn more about Korean culture,” Lee said. “I’ve heard about tradition and holidays from parents and friends, but I’ve not been able to experience them. When I try to speak to my grandparents, who only know Korean, it’s kind of hard. I just kind of nod my way through. I’m excited to get back to my roots.”

Lee has never been able to visit family in South Korea before, she said. While she is a bit nervous about the thought of being in a large foreign city, she is more excited. Her parents have been giving her advice since they found out she would be visiting the country this summer. Their best advice?

“Be careful of all the food, especially since there is a lot of street food. And there is air pollution so I shouldn’t be too shocked when I walk out of the airport and see that,” she said.

Her grandparents were excited to learn about her trip to their native country as well. Her father’s parents were set to visit the United States before she leaves for her trip as well. She expects them to provide helpful advice as well.

Both Neely and Lee said they were surprised when they were actually chosen to participate in the program and received their first choice of language.

Neely said she was on her way home from ASMSA for a weekend. She was in the middle of a conversation with her mother in the car when she saw the email come through.

“My stomach kind of dropped when I saw it,” she said. “There was no congratulations. I had to open the PDF to see the opening line that let me know I had been selected. I grabbed my mom. We had a happy car ride home after that.”

Lee said she was sitting on her bed in her room in the Student Center when she received her notification. She started to have her suitemate open the email for her.

“I was so scared to open it. I went into the closet and opened it and started screaming,” she said.


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