Many teenagers would be content to spend their summer vacation learning how to drive, getting a part-time job or hanging out at the beach. But 16-year-old Amy Deeb has much bigger plans.
She’ll jet off to New York on July 5 where she’ll spend three days being prepped before traveling another 7,600 miles to spend the summer in Indore, a city in central India. The Sunlake High School student will be immersed in the sights, sounds, language and culture of the place – and she’ll spend at least 120 hours in class learning Hindi.
Deeb’s travel expenses and classes are being covered through a scholarship provided by the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth program. She’ll stay with a host family and receive a stipend to cover her day-to-day expenses in India.
The program is intended to encourage youths to develop language skills in Arabic, Mandarin, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, Turkish and Hindi. The initiative is aimed at helping prepare Americans become leaders in a global world, according to the NSLI for Youth website.
While in school, Deeb will focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening, so that by the end of her program, she’ll be familiar with the Devanagari alphabet and will possess and understand Hindi grammar and the different dialects of Hindi, according to the program’s website.
Not only will Deeb learn a new language, but she’ll also learn new sounds and how to make them. She’ll have a chance to explore the context in the language, including Indian crafts, music and dance, as well as yoga and the Bollywood film industry, the program’s website says.
Deeb is counting the days before her departure. She knows throwing herself into a new place without extensive background in the language or culture is a somewhat daunting challenge. But she is ready to embrace it.
“Complete immersion,” she said, is a very cool way to learn about another culture and language.
When she applied for the scholarship, Deeb said she had to rank three languages she was interested in studying. Hindi was her No. 1 choice.
“I figured if I’m going to go for it, I may as well pick something that’s so, in my mind, different from what I could ever experience in America,” said Deeb, who has aspirations of becoming a surgeon working in foreign countries.
She has her sights set on work in fetal surgery. “I think it would be interesting to be kind of like a pioneer in fetal surgery,” Deeb said.
She expects to be in class about six hours a day during the week. She’ll spend other time with her host family and on cultural excursions.
Deeb studies American Sign Language, but doesn’t take other language classes. She believes her sign language studies will help her be more observant of others than she might have otherwise been.
But she admits she doesn’t have a clue about speaking Hindi.
“I could be just terrible at Hindi – it’s a definite possibility,” Deeb said, but it won’t be for a lack of effort or enthusiasm. “I’m going to throw myself in there and hope for the best.”
Deeb said she found out about the scholarship program from two of her cousins who live in Tucson, Ariz. Both of them have been selected to study Mandarin, and one of them is currently involved in a yearlong program, Deeb said.
Deeb found out about the program when she was 13 and knew then that she wanted to apply when she turned 16. She’s delighted she was chosen.
“It’s very selective,” Deeb said, noting about 3,500 students apply nationwide for scholarships for all seven languages. About 400 or fewer receive scholarships.
Her application included three essays, biographical information and a copy of her transcript. Finalists also underwent personal interviews, which lasted about 40 minutes.
The main qualities the program requires are enthusiasm and aptitude, Deeb said.
She seems to qualify on both counts. Deeb has a 4.4 GPA on a 4.0 scale, with extra points awarded for rigorous coursework.
And, her enthusiasm is obvious.
“I can’t even imagine in my mind what it’s going to be like to go there. I am so excited,” Deeb said.
For more information about the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program, visit NSLIForYouth.org.
Published March 19, 2014
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