Adventure Abroad

Students travel abroad to study language and experience culture

Adventure Abroad

Sara Schleede, Junior Managing Editor

Junior Anmei Zeng didn’t expect it. Not when she was a freshman first learning about the opportunity to travel to exciting new places. Not when she was filling out the strenuous application. Not when she was sitting through hours and hours of Korean language lessons.

But by the end of her six-week long trip to Seoul, she gained ceaselessly invaluable experiences.

“I really wanted to travel and see more because I live in a suburb and I didn’t want to always do that,” Zeng said.

Zeng participated in the 2015 program in Seoul, South Korea, as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y).

NSLI-Y is a government sponsored program, which selects American students for summer and year-long trips abroad in order to generate interest in specialized languages not usually taught in schools. Students in the program have the chance to learn Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Tajiki, Russian or Turkish based on which languages they specify interest in.

“I’m Chinese so I have an Asian background, and at first I wasn’t super interested in Korea,” Zeng said. “But I thought because I’m already of Chinese descent it would be cool to see a different Asian country and compare.”

Students are assigned to previously screened and approved host families who typically don’t speak much or any English. Zeng still keeps in contact with her host family, though she said she “spent more time with her friends in the program.”

The application process requires essays, teacher recommendations, a copy of one’s transcripts and an interview process.

“You have to make sure it’s all done very carefully because you don’t have a lot of room to write,” junior Kelechi Kafor said. “You want to maximize the space given to you and you want to make sure you’re putting the right thing.”

Kafor applied for the 2016 summer program after hearing about Zeng’s positive experience with NSLI-Y. She would prefer Arabic, Korean and Hindi as her top three choices for languages to study, which could give her the chance to travel to Oman, Morocco, Jordan, South Korea or India.

While she doesn’t plan to pursue languages as a career, Kafor looks forward to the skills she could acquire through NSLI-Y.

“To have the experience of living [in another country] and really understanding the culture and really being a part of it is so indispensable and it’s something I really hope to do within my lifetime,” Kafor said. “This is a really cool opportunity to try something like that.”

While foreign language experience is not required, an interest in languages doesn’t hurt a student’s chances of being accepted, according to Kafor. She has familiarized herself with the basics of Korean and Arabic in preparation for the program.

“There aren’t any specific qualifications but it’s generally implied that you should have an interest in language that extends beyond just the foreign language that is required in school,” Kafor said.

According to Zeng, the program allowed her to develop a greater interest in languages as a potential career choice.

“At first I just wanted to travel but as I was going through writing the essays and stuff I realized that maybe in the future I wanted to do more with that and actually go into international relations,” Zeng said.

Other than being educational, Zeng said the trip was valuable in other ways.

“I feel like I’m more confident and I don’t care as much what people think,” Zeng said. “I know how to take care of myself better and just know about different cultures and how they interact.”