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Pitt students win national language scholarship

Alexis Crossland won the 2016 Critical Language Scholarship along with eight other Pitt students. / Courtesy of Alexis Crossland

Alexis Crossland won the 2016 Critical Language Scholarship along with eight other Pitt students. / Courtesy of Alexis Crossland

Alexis Crossland won the 2016 Critical Language Scholarship along with eight other Pitt students. / Courtesy of Alexis Crossland

By Leo Dornan / Staff Writer

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After winning a national scholarship, a group of Pitt students will spend the summer studying six languages in five different countries.

Last week, Pitt announced eight students won the U.S. Department of State’s 2016 Critical Language Scholarship. The scholarship recipients — Nicholas Caskey, Emilie Coakley, Alexis Crossland, Steven Moon, Andrew Nitz, Roisin O’Dowd, Ashley Saxe and Zoe Toigo — are among more than 550 individuals across 48 states to win the award this year.

The Pitt students — three graduate and five undergraduate students — will be studying languages in China, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Tajikistan.

Moon, a graduate student studying ethnomusicology, plans to study gender and masculinity in Turkish pop music while in Azerbaijan.

“I think it’s a really great program,” Moon said. “It will really allow me to immerse myself in the language.”

The CLS program arose in 2007, as part of a U.S. government initiative to boost the number of American students studying critical languages and deepen relationships with foreign countries. The State Department deems languages critical if they are spoken in countries important to national security and relations or are less commonly known among Americans. 

Students study for the summer over eight to 10 weeks. The recipients attend overseas institutions and receive full funding, including airfare. The typical course load adds up to 20 hours of language-intensive classes a week and a cultural program as well. The program covers approximately one academic year of university-level coursework. The course credits are issued through Bryn Mawr College and can be applied to a scholar’s college career.

In the nine years since the award’s inception, 38 Pitt students have won.

Nitz, a senior Russian language major, participated in an intensive Turkish language program last summer in Istanbul, hoping to set himself on the way to becoming an interpreter. He believes the program in Istanbul gave him a leg up in the process of applying to learn Turkish this summer in Azerbaijan.

“They knew I was dedicated to the language and would work hard at it,” Nitz said.

On the CLS website, the program notes that it selects applicants based off their academic record and ability to adapt to a different cultural environment. The program also considers whether students plan to continue studying the language and how they plan to use the language in a future career.

Saxe, a senior rehabilitation science major, will study Swahili in Tanzania in hopes of working as a physical therapist in East African nations after graduation.

“Really think about why you are applying and ask yourself why you want to do it,” Saxe said about applying for the scholarship. “I did a lot of soul searching on why I wanted to learn Swahili and go to Tanzania.”

Crossland, a senior environmental studies major, already has an idea of what to expect while studying in China, having studied there the previous summer.

“In my application I said it may be unfair for me to go again, but I already started so I can’t turn back now,” Crossland said. “[CLS] saw that I could stick with it.”

Crossland, who went to China in the spring and summer of 2015 as part of a six-month language program at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, is optimistic that her CLS trip will be even more productive than her last..

“I have cried at the ATM [and] taken subways the wrong way, so I’ll actually learn better this time,” Crossland said. “I wanted to go because I wanted to learn a language I love for free, but I also just really love China.”

While she is eager to return to a country that fascinates her, Crossland warns potential applicants that joining the CLS program is no small task.

“[CLS] can tell if you’re passionate,” Crossland said. “Pick your language and program carefully. Make sure you’re willing to work hard at it.”

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Pitt students win national language scholarship