| by Jason Warburg

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Profile Image of Alyssa Serrano MAIPD '22
Alyssa Serrano MAIPD ’22

Three Middlebury Institute students, one currently enrolled and two who recently graduated, have been awarded highly competitive scholarships to advance their study of languages considered critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity.

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program managed by the U.S. Department of State is offering CLS awards to nearly 700 competitively selected American students at U.S. colleges and universities in 2021. The three Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) recipients are from our MA in International Policy and Development (MAIPD) and MPA programs.

“My goal for the CLS program is to give me the skills to have a basic conversation in Persian, since I came in as a beginner,” says current student Alyssa Serrano MAIPD ’22. “I have been interning at the International Rescue Committee for the past year, and a lot of the clients I work with are either Persian or Hispanic. I already speak Spanish and I want to be able to offer the same level of understanding to my Persian clients.”

Stone Goethe MAIPD ’21 has a similar goal: “to build a good enough vocabulary and fluency with Arabic where I could teach myself. I am looking to work in the field of international relations, possibly at the State Department, and I hope to use Arabic to interact with stakeholders and state actors in the Middle East and North Africa. I also hope to use it to enhance my political analysis.”

Serrano also believes enhancing her language skills will make her more effective in future professional roles. “I plan to continue working with refugees and immigrants once I graduate from MIIS, so I anticipate Persian being very relevant to my career. I have found that having the ability to communicate with somebody in their native language makes support much more sustainable.”

The CLS program provides opportunities for U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to spend eight to 10 weeks studying one of 15 critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu. The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. Each year’s CLS program is developed in partnership with local institutions in countries where these languages are commonly spoken. CLS scholars are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

I have found that having the ability to communicate with somebody in their native language makes support much more sustainable.
— Alyssa Serrano MAIPD ’22

Fellow MIIS graduate and CLS awardee Anissa Monteon MPA ’21 will study Swahili. Monteon and Serrano are both Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).

Serrano and Goethe were both grateful for the advice they received from Professor David Wick, faculty director of fellowships. Serrano reports that Professor Wick “met with me before I submitted my application, and we combed through it to find anything that he thought I could improve on. I found his advice very helpful, and I really appreciated his time!”

“Dr. Wick was very helpful in proofreading and narrative writing,” says Goethe. “He was very informative on what the CLS program was looking for in a student and how to make the best use of my own experiences to support my narrative. He also had a lot of guidance on how to make the best use of the program.”

Due to the global pandemic, the majority of CLS institutes in 2021 will be offered as virtual programs. According to the State Department, CLS virtual institutes in 2020 resulted in impressive language gains among participants with opportunities for virtual engagement with host communities abroad.

Four Middlebury College students were also awarded Critical Language Scholarships.