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Anna Wilson visits the 19th-century Nanzo-in temple in Fukuoka, Japan
Anna Wilson, a senior Asian studies and cognitive science double major, is studying Japanese in Japan this semester after participating in the virtual Critical Language Scholarship Spark program studying Mandarin Chinese over the summer. A recent trip to the 19th-century Nanzo-in temple in Fukuoka included views of the 41-meter-long reclining Buddha statue, said to be the largest bronze statue in the world.

Learning critical languages

Photos courtesy of Anna Wilson

Two students awarded prestigious Critical Language Scholarship, application for 2024 award due Nov. 14

Learning new languages unlocks opportunities, not only during a study abroad program, but for career pathways in government, business and civil service after graduation. From competing in the global marketplace to fostering diplomatic relationships with countries around the world to supporting a more empathetic society, the United States benefits from having a population of multilingual professionals. Despite this, only 20% of Americans report that they are able to converse in two or more languages — far behind their European counterparts, who report a 56% multilingual population.

To promote language development and cross-cultural communication skills among American students, the U.S. Department of State sponsors the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program each summer. The Critical Language Scholarship Program encourages university students to study a language that is defined as “critical” to United States national security and economic prosperity. Students may pursue programs in Arabic, Azerbaijani, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili and Urdu — all with funding from the U.S. Department of State. 

Anna Wilson, a senior at the University of Delaware studying cognitive science and Asian studies, spent eight weeks of her summer immersing herself in Mandarin Chinese through the CLS Spark virtual program. 

Throughout the summer, Wilson’s mornings consisted of two-hour lectures, introducing students to the distinct pronunciation, sentence structure and alphabet of one of the world’s most complex languages. Each day, she expanded her vocabulary and gained a new essential communication skill, such as telling time, ordering food and asking and giving directions in Mandarin. To supplement the course curriculum, Wilson’s instructor dedicated one lesson per week to expose students to a different aspect of Chinese culture, such as Chinese hand knitting, kung fu and traditional Chinese music.  

“The instruction was very personal, as my specific class was only with three other people,” Wilson said. “This way, my instructor could focus on topics that we personally wanted to learn about.”

After spending much of her first year at UD on Zoom because of the pandemic, Wilson was hesitant to return to breakout rooms and screen-shares, but she found that this mode of learning complemented the CLS Spark curriculum and the program’s intimate class size. 

“I really got to know my classmates and teacher and was more comfortable speaking up to ask questions,” she said. “Since Mandarin is such a hard language to pronounce, I think I learned how to get over the embarrassment of making mistakes, because I made plenty.”

Wilson has spent her fall semester learning and living in Fukuoka, Japan. She enjoys night visits to Fukuoka Tower, which features changing light designs — this one has a haunted house design for Halloween.

As a member of the World Scholars Program, Wilson is no stranger to new languages and cultures. During her sophomore year, she spent her fall semester in Rome, Italy, studying global politics and art history at John Cabot University. This fall, she has been exploring Fukuoka, Japan, home of her second study-abroad destination, Seinan Gakuin University. 

“The CLS course gave me a new perspective to language learning, mostly on the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes,” Wilson said. “Now, during my Japanese classes, or when speaking with my new Japanese friends, I am less afraid to make mistakes. I realize now that practice is necessary if I ever want to improve, so I’ve learned to be less afraid to try.” 

Kristin Bennighoff, senior associate director for the Honors College and UD’s institutional representative to CLS, encourages students who are interested in working in global affairs or foreign service to participate in the one-of-a-kind program. 

“Taking advantage of this opportunity is the perfect way for students interested in global careers in any discipline to get some exposure to other cultures,” Bennighoff said. “Language learning takes time, but starting now can give students a huge advantage when they enter the professional world.” 

Nyla Pugh, a recent UD graduate and World Scholar, also received the Critical Language Scholarship this past year. Through this program, Pugh spent her summer at Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro studying Brazilian Portuguese. 

“The CLS program is a strong supplement to a UD global education,” said Matt Drexler, UD’s director for Study Abroad. “The program provides students with a unique chance to develop fluency in the many language majors and minors offered at UD and access to intensive experiences with additional languages. As a government program, it creates a pathway to exciting work in a number of civil service and diplomatic careers.”

Applications for this year’s Critical Language Scholarship Program are currently open. Students interested in applying are encouraged to fill out this interest form and must submit all application materials by Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. For more information on CLS and other U.S. government scholarships for study abroad, visit the Center for Global Programs and Services (CGPS) website.

Fukuoka, Japan, cityscape
This semester, Wilson is studying abroad at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, Japan’s fifth largest city and home to more than 1.5 million people.

From Delaware to the World

2023 marks the 100-year anniversary of study abroad, pioneered at the University of Delaware in 1923 when UD language professor and World War I veteran Raymond Kirkbride took eight students to France for their junior year. Today, UD boasts more than 100 study abroad programs in 40-plus countries and has an international student population that hails from over 100 countries.

If you would like to be a part of study abroad’s 100th anniversary celebration by supporting global learning for UD students, you can make a gift here. Please also visit the UD Abroad Blog for student perspectives on the study abroad experience.

About the Center for Global Programs and Studies

The Center for Global Programs and Services (CGPS) at the University of Delaware is home to the operations of UD Global, which includes Study Abroad, International Student and Scholar Services, World Scholars Program and Global Outreach and Partnerships. The Center provides leadership and collaborative innovation in support of all of the University's global initiatives and campus internationalization efforts, with its Global 360 Strategy serving as a roadmap for infusing international perspectives throughout the University’s scholarship, research, and service missions. Focused on a student-centered approach, CGPS provides expert advising and a wealth of global engagement opportunities to the UD campus community, including the weekly International Coffee Hour in the fall and spring semesters.

Follow and engage with @UDGlobal on Instagram and X for the latest updates on everything global happening at UD.

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