Two MTSU scholars will depart soon for far-flung regions of the globe after winning prestigious financial stipends.
Bonnie Walker and Ethan McHugh are among more than 500 students at U.S. colleges and universities who received 2017 Critical Language Scholarships from the U.S. Department of State.
The scholarship program, also called CLS, aims “to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering 14 critical-need foreign languages,” according to the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which administers the program.
Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu are considered “critical languages” under the program.
The bureau defines “critical languages” as “those that are less commonly taught in U.S. schools, but are essential for America’s engagement with the world.”
The scholarship program, which is open to students in all disciplines, is one of the most competitive in the United States with an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent.
Walker, an Oak Ridge, Tennessee, native who graduated magna cume laude from MTSU May 6 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a minor in Arabic, will depart June 14 for a two-month stay in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan to study the Turkish language.
“During my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 months in Turkey teaching,” said Walker. “I developed many close friendships with my neighbors and truly enjoyed my time there. The people are so incredibly welcoming, hospitable and friendly.”
Azerbaijan, which shares an 8-kilometer border with Turkey, is an ethnically Turkic nation that has good diplomatic relations with its neighbor to the west. As the only Muslim-majority member of the North American Treaty Organization, Turkey is strategically important to the United States in fighting terrorism.
“I plan on taking the foreign service exam in December,” said Walker. “I would like to be in the foreign service and work in Turkish-U.S. relations. I am also interested in graduate school or law school and continuing my knowledge of Turkish after the CLS program.”
“I initially began studying Arabic because I wanted to go to graduate school to study religion, and I wanted to have the option of studying religion in the Middle East,” said McHugh.
Studying Arabic is essential for McHugh’s plans; he intends to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to fund a position as an English teaching assistant in Bahrain before he heads to graduate school.
“Ultimately, I hope to be involved in education reform and the improvement of accessibility for the study of Arabic and other critical language at the secondary and university levels,” said McHugh.
The Sultanate of Oman shares borders on the Arabian Peninsula with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Its position on the Arabian Sea and proximity to Iran and Pakistan also makes it strategically important to the United States.
To learn more about MTSU educational opportunities in other countries, contact the Office of International Affairs at 615-898-2116 or www.mtsu.edu/intered.
For more information about the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarships, go to www.clscholarship.org.
— Gina K. Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)