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Baylor Senior Receives Second Critical Language Scholarship To China

April 28, 2010

Baylor University senior Melissa Yeakley, an international studies major from Hurst, has received her second Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study in China this summer as part of the U.S. government's National Security Language Initiative to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical-need foreign languages.

After spending two months last summer studying intermediate Chinese at Soochow University in Suzhou, China, Yeakley will study this summer at the Beijing Language and Culture University.

"I'm really excited to be in Beijing, which is quite a bit bigger city than I was in last year," Yeakley said. "The program will essentially be the same. The only difference is that my language skills are at a higher level than they were last time. It's just a continuing of my studies."

The CLS Program provides fully funded seven- to 10-week group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences held overseas at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels for U.S. citizen undergraduate, master's and Ph.D. students. The CLS is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the American Councils for International Education.

"The Division of Asian and African Languages and I are very honored to have a student to be selected for the Critical Language Scholarship," said Dr. Xin Wang, associate professor of Chinese studies and acting director of Asian studies at Baylor. "The scholarship will allow Melissa to study Chinese intensively in Beijing. Her Chinese proficiency will be greatly improved. At the same time, she will observe the changes and transformations of Chinese society, economy and culture."

In addition to Chinese, the CLS program offers intensive overseas study in the critical-need foreign languages of Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Japanese and Russian. The critical language initiative was launched in 2006, with the purpose of strengthening national security, economic competitiveness and cultural understanding through the development of foreign language skills, especially in critical regions of the world.

Recipients are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and apply their critical language skills in their academic and professional careers.

Yeakley will graduate from Baylor in May. Her future plans are up in the air, but she said when she completes her studies in Beijing, she is strongly considering staying in China to teach English for a year. Other options in Yeakley's future include a career with the State Department as a foreign service officer or political analyst or a position with an international non-governmental organization.

Long interested in foreign languages and international issues, Yeakley points to a pre-high school graduation trip to China with her grandmother that heightened her passion for the people of China and the country's diplomatic relationship with the United States. When she came to Baylor, Yeakley found that her passion fit perfectly with the university's international studies program.

"They must have made that major for me," she said. Later, she changed from studying French to concentrating on Chinese.

Baylor's language program in Chinese continues to expand, with more than 100 students enrolled at all levels of Chinese courses, Wang said. Baylor students who have studied Chinese have been admitted to prestigious graduate programs at Yale, Johns Hopkins, Duke and the University of Texas, or hired by the State Department and multinational corporations. The university also has its own accelerated language program held each summer in China. This summer 11 students will study Chinese language intensively, visit cultural and historical sites extensively and learn about Chinese culture contextually. Upon their return, many students will take on a new research-oriented project related to China. Yeakley participated in the 2008 summer program.

"Learning a foreign language is extremely important for our students as the world becomes 'flat' and globalized. Many research studies show that learning a language contributes significantly to the development of individual intelligence and cross-cultural understanding, communication and appreciation," Wang said. "At the same time, we can strengthen our own cultural identity through a comparative and reflective perspective. As educators, we need to promote learning cultures through languages. I think that's why many students are fascinated about learning foreign languages, including Chinese, at Baylor."

For more information about the Critical Language Scholarship program, visit clscholarship.org.