In the spring of 2017, Emily Key traveled to Shanghai, China, as part of a study abroad trip. In addition to touring Shanghai, she visit Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing, and took a weeklong excursion to Taiwan.
Key returned home after the trip feeling as though she had experienced only a small part of China. Immediately, she wanted to return. Now, as a recipient of a Critical Language Scholarship, she has an opportunity to go back.
The Critical Language Scholarships (CLS) Program offers intensive overseas study and is part of the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI), a U.S. government interagency effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages.
Joining Key as MU recipients of a CLS is Clare Roth, a journalism and international studies dual major from New Haven, Missouri, and Victor Topouria, a journalism major with an emphasis in international strategic communication from Columbia, Missouri.
As a junior in high school, Roth was an exchange student at a school in Vienna, Austria, where she lived with Turkish immigrants. She became interested in the Turkish culture during her stay and wanted to learn more. With the CLS, Roth has the chance to increase her knowledge of Turkey by living in the region.
“As a country long known as a model democracy within the Islamic world, Turkey is very important geopolitically,” Roth says. “It is such an interesting language and culture to study as someone interested in international relations and German culture and politics. I know that the only way I’m going to understand Turkey is by understanding its language.”
Roth is interested in becoming a journalist or political analyst reporting on Turkey’s relationship with the United States and the European Union.
“Ultimately, I’d like to be an expert on Turkish affairs,” she says. “I’m not sure where I’d like that expertise to lead me quite yet, but I want to know everything I can know about the region, its culture and its place in the broader lens of geopolitics and the world economy.”
CLS recipients receive funding to participate in beginning, intermediate and advanced level summer language programs at American Overseas Research Centers and affiliated partners, and are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and later apply their critical language skills in their professional careers.
For Key, who graduated in December with a degree in international studies, the CLS allows her to explore more of China and improve her Mandarin-Chinese proficiency, especially her listening comprehension skills.
“It is really important for me to continue studying Mandarin, and the best way to improve is definitely through immersion,” she says.
Key is interested in a career with the U.S. State Department, specifically a position that would allow her to work with people of various cultural backgrounds and use her knowledge of Chinese culture.
Topouria will study Russian with the CLS he earned. Topouria was born in Columbia, but his family later moved to the Republic of Georgia, where he learned to speak Russian. Years later, the family returned to live in Columbia and he no longer had opportunities to practice the language.
“I became fluent in Russian at a very young age,” he says. “I lost some of my skills after my family came back to the U.S. I always regretted losing my fluency, so I thought the CLS was a perfect opportunity to regain it in a short time.”
Topouria is interested in intercultural communication and public diplomacy.
“I am hoping to use my Russian skills in that realm,” he says. “I also want to talk to my Russian-speaking friends in their native language.”