December 10, 2010 — Jira Vinyoopongphan, a third-year student in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, has received a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Education.
The scholarship, valued at $10,000, was awarded through the department's International Education Program Service for advanced Chinese language study.
"I was speechless," said Vinyoopongphan, who is double-majoring in foreign affairs and Chinese language and literature. "I am more than grateful to have received this honor. Funding from Fulbright-Hays will help me afford the opportunity to reach my academic and career goals."
Vinyoopongphan will study for a semester at the East China Normal University and live with a host family.
"I will be able to continue learning Chinese in the classroom, but also have the chance to interact with native speakers on a daily basis," she said. "Through the host family, I will also be able to experience traditional culture and the Chinese lifestyle at home."
Vinyoopongphan, 20, who said she has always had an interest in foreign languages and cultures, plans a career in international affairs.
"Ideally, I want to become a public diplomacy officer, spreading American culture and values," she said. "With my experience in China, I will be able to communicate with Chinese people through a great understanding of their native language and culture.
"I chose Shanghai because it is increasingly growing in influence and importance in the international arena," she said. "I will not only be able to continue learning Chinese, but I can also take classes about international affairs. The benefit of doing so in a foreign country allows me to learn about issues and events from a different and fresh perspective."
Vinyoopongphan, of Alexandria, is a member of the Thai Student Organization and the Chinese Student Organization. She is also a language consultant with Volunteers with International Students and Scholars, where she is working with two Chinese graduate students on their language skills. She has received an International Studies Office Scholarship, and an Ellen Bayard Weedon Grant for travel to East Asia.
Shu-chen Chen, Vinyoopongphan's instructor in Chinese, who wrote a recommendation for her, said it is rare for an undergraduate to receive a Fulbright-Hays scholarship.
"Jira is one of those students who is both talented and hardworking," Chen said. "She is willing to learn new things and learns easily. She also is humble enough to take suggestions beneficial to her learning. When she does research, she is able to get a balanced view on a topic while using Chinese she has learned cumulatively."
Studying in Shanghai will accelerate her learning of the language, based on the solid foundation she has laid at U.Va., he said.
"I look forward to hearing her speaking even more fluently after her return," Chen said.
The Fulbright-Hays programs at the U.S. Department of Education support the internationalization of American education through strengthening area and foreign language expertise among current and prospective U.S. educators.
Using funds provided by the Fulbright-Hays programs, participants serve as informal cultural ambassadors and engage in an exchange of knowledge and culture while overseas. Fulbright-Hays sends U.S. citizens abroad and participants enjoy a great degree of flexibility in their overseas work. These programs contribute to the U.S. international education, supporting ongoing teaching and research about the peoples, cultures, and events that shape the world.