A Love of Language
This summer, Cassandra C. ’22 was selected to join the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). Since the inception of NSLI-Y in 2006, over 7,000 U.S. high school students have participated in the program, resulting in language proficiency, cultural understanding, and cross-cultural communication skills.
The U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) was launched in 2006 to promote critical language learning among American youth. The U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, awards and administers merit-based scholarships to high school students for participation in summer and academic year immersion programs where NSLI-Y languages are spoken. Currently, there are eight languages offered: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish.
After completing the application requirements (an essay, transcripts, recommendation letters and other materials), Cassandra was awarded a spot in the Summer 2021 Chinese program. She explained that upon entrance into the program, she was also required to participate in a pre-program interview, which was conducted completely in Mandarin. Pre-program interviews are implemented as a way to help sort students into one of three placement levels.
Once the program began, Cassandra received daily assignments and group work activities to practice her language skills. In a regular year, Cassandra would have traveled to her assigned NSLI-Y program location, Xiamen University, and began getting acquainted with other students. Additionally, she would have also had a week-long stay with a host family in one of the rural villages nearby. Host families help to provide formal and informal language practice and introduce students to a variety of cultural activities in their new setting. Due to the pandemic, all sessions remained virtual this summer.
Upon finishing the summer program, Cassandra was tasked with one final assessment: delivering two presentations about her studies and the NSLI-Y program. Once classes resumed at Emma Willard School, she delivered her presentation to language instructor Holly Ye’s Chinese III class. Cassandra, one of Ms. Ye’s Chinese III students last fall, discovered the NSLI-Y program through a recommendation from international admissions manager Preston Chang-Sundin after the cancellation of two other Chinese language programs she was interested in.
For the final project, each student was given flexibility to choose their presentation topic. Cassandra and her group decided to explore the one child policy of China, providing her audience with the history of the birth policy, exceptions, and the policies’ direct effect on an aging workforce. Additionally, she provided information about the NSLI-Y program, including how to apply and what to expect during the interview. To cap off her presentation, Cassandra led the class through a mock interview process, encouraging the students to use as much of their language skills as possible, and answered questions about her experience. Delightfully, she shared the NSLI-Y has officially confirmed travel for the upcoming year.
One of the overarching goals of NSLI-Y is to spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures among American youth. NSLI-Y reports 95% of program alum say this experience has helped them better understand other cultures, while 82% have continued to study their selected language post-program. With only a 20% acceptance rate, NSLI-Y is one of, if not the most competitive language program available to US students. Cassandra shares, "NSLI-Y helped me to not only better develop my Mandarin skills, but also figure out my own identity within the language. Sometimes it is hard to translate your personality and values across languages, but I was able to become comfortable doing so in the NSLI-Y classroom environment.”
We would like to congratulate Cassandra on her acceptance and participation in NSLI-Y and look forward to seeing where her language journey leads her next!