This spring, Katharine Moon MANPTS ’18 was one of five Middlebury Institute students to be awarded a 2017 Critical Language Scholarship, a fully-funded, eight-week summer overseas language program for American undergraduate and graduate students, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. When our initial report appeared in May, the five—Moon, Alex Kynerd MANPTS ’18, Andrew Meador MANPTS ’18, Eric Scheel MANPTS ’18, and Chris Hester MAIEM ’17—were preparing to set off for language and cultural immersion experiences in Morocco, India, China, Taiwan, and Japan, respectively.
“One of my main goals when I arrived at MIIS was to focus on Arabic and to improve my language skills as much as possible,” explains Moon, “which is why I decided to apply for CLS.” Moon describes her program in Morocco as “intensive and academically challenging,” noting that “language is so much more than just grammar and memorizing vocabulary. Having the opportunity to study in Morocco helped me remember why I started learning Arabic in the first place, which was to get a more nuanced understanding of culture, politics, religion, and history, all of which are intimately connected to language.” Moon says the solid foundation she built in Arabic before and during her first year in Monterey enabled her to get the most out of her CLS experience.
During her stay, Moon and 29 other American students from institutions across the US participated in intensive Arabic courses at the Arab American Language Institute of Morocco (AALIM) in Meknes, a UNESCO heritage site. Moon and her fellow program participants lived with local Arabic-speaking host families and met regularly with local peers to learn more about the Arabic language and develop their personal networks. The group engaged in a variety of cultural excursions, lectures and enrichment activities, such as an outing to the Sahara Desert town of Merzouga, where they visited an ancient fortress and used their Arabic language skills to interview local residents about the Berber and nomadic cultures of southern Morocco.
Moon says the most important learning she did in Morocco didn’t necessarily happen in the classroom. “The most valuable lessons came from constant problem solving in a different language(s), working with others, and learning how to respectfully and constructively interact with local communities without sacrificing my own identity. Pretty much every waking moment in Morocco was a learning experience, from hailing taxis and catching trains to late night talks with my amazing host mom.”
In 2017, 555 American students representing 217 colleges and universities across the United States were competitively selected from over 5,000 applicants to receive a Critical Language Scholarship award. Each CLS scholar spends eight to ten weeks in one of 22 locations studying Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu. While in country, CLS scholars serve as citizen ambassadors, and they are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.
“I’m still processing all of the experiences I had and skills I gained over summer,” says Moon, “but I know they will be relevant and helpful in my future, both personally and professionally.”