Government Backs Five U.Va. Students to Learn ‘Critical’ Languages

Five University of Virginia scholars will spend their summers immersed in foreign cultures and languages, thanks to the Critical Language Scholarships from the U.S. Department of State.

They are among the approximately 550 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students who received a scholarship from the program. They will spend seven to 10 weeks in intensive language institutes this summer in one of 13 countries to study languages the U.S. government has deemed “critical” – Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish or Urdu.

U.Va.’s participants are: Daniel Ng, who will study Bangla in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Victor Zheng, who will study Chinese in Dalian, China; Rebekah McCallum, who will study Hindi in Jaipur, India; and James Duke II and Jillian Carrigan, both of whom will study Urdu in Lucknow, India.

“The CLS is an opportunity – along with other awards, such as the Boren Awards and the Fulbright U.S. Student Award – for students to continue to foster cross-cultural understanding,” said Andrus G. Ashoo, associate director of U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “Through my experience living in multiple foreign countries, I can attest to the fact that such understanding is built at least in large part on a foundation of linguistic competency. Eight or more weeks of intensive study in country will help lay the cornerstone for or continue to enhance such a foundation.“

The Critical Language Scholars program provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. Participants, who are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers, hail from 49 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia and represent more than 200 institutions of higher education from across the United States, including public and private universities, liberal arts colleges, minority-serving institutions and community colleges.

A closer look at this year’s U.Va. recipients:

• Victor Zheng, 21, of McLean, is a third-year history and a Chinese major who is learning Mandarin Chinese.

“I applied out of a desire to have another opportunity to go back to China and be immersed in its environment,” he said. “I also just inherently love being abroad where I believe I learn the best and the most.”

Zheng, who is a member of U.Va.’s Virginia Glee Club, plans to pursue a master’s degree in international relations.

• Jillian Carrigan, 21, of Leesburg, a graduating fourth-year student majoring in South Asian languages and literatures, will study Urdu in Lucknow, India, for the second time. She first received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2013.

“This scholarship will allow me to further develop my proficiency in the Urdu language which has been an ongoing process over the past four years,” she said. “I applied to the program because I had such a good previous experience and believe the best way to improve oral proficiency is to be in an immersive language environment.”

Carrigan is a member of U.Va.’s di Shaan, a competitive traditional Indian dance team, and she was awarded best female dancer in Toronto in 2013. She also contributed to the Visiting International Students and Scholars program as a volunteer while pursuing Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages certification.

• James Duke, 22, of Sterling, a graduating distinguished major in South Asian studies, also will study Urdu in Lucknow, India, for the second time. He previously received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2012.

“This scholarship will help me to improve my Urdu speaking skills, the most important component of language knowledge for a career in diplomacy,” Duke said. “Having continued to study Urdu over the past few years, I am excited to return to Lucknow, reunite with all of the professors and my old host family and improve my speaking abilities in an immersive environment.”

While a student at U.Va., Duke was a member of Sustained Dialogue and a Madison House volunteer tutor in English as a Second Language. An Echols Scholar, he received Intermediate Honors; the 21 Society Award, recognizing 21 graduating fourth-years; and the MasterCard Asian Studies Scholarship.

• Daniel Ng, 22, of West Windsor, New Jersey, graduating as a distinguished double major in anthropology and global development studies, will study Bangla in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for the second time. He first received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2012.

“The CLS award enables me to move one step closer to achieving advanced proficiency in the Bangla language,” Ng said. “Fluency in Bangla will be critical for when I conduct and convey my future research in Bangladesh as an anthropologist.”

Ng was a member of the Undergraduate Research Network, the Student Council Public Service Committee, Club Tennis and the Public Service Programming Board. An Echols Scholar, he has received a Jefferson Public Citizens grant, a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award, a College of Arts & Sciences small research and travel grant and a Dee Family Global Scholarship.

• Rebekah McCallum, 26, of Brunswick, Maryland, graduating with a master’s degree in South Asian languages and cultures, will study Hindi in Jaipur, India.

“This scholarship will help me achieve the next level in Hindi training, specifically in surmounting the difficulties of being able to speak the language and understand the language when encountered orally,” she said. “I see the benefit of learning the language in-country for developing proficiency. This will also situate me well as I pursue further academic work that will pull on the training that I receive this summer.”

McCallum, who has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, with a certificate in South Asian studies from Princeton University, is a member of the Graduate Christian Fellowship and Ratio Christi, the Christian Apologetics club. She completed an internship at the Peace Appeal Foundation and received the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship. Starting in the fall, she will pursue a Ph.D. in history in Indian Ocean world history at McGill University in Montreal.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications