CHS senior goes global with cultural immersion trip

By Julia Lescht, Online Editor-in-Chief

Yeah, we all take at least two years of foreign language instruction within the walls of CHS, but how many people travel all the way to a foreign country to learn its language by living completely immersed in its society and culture?

Senior Hana Mangat is participating in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) summer program in which she will travel to Morocco to learn Arabic and experience the Moroccan lifestyle for six to eight weeks.

“It’s a program with the State Department,” Mangat said. “It’s a language initiative to encourage Americans to learn more languages.”

While the program offers various trips and excursions for the students to participate in, the students are also free to explore the city of Rabat after classes.

According to the NSLI website, the program’s main goal and purpose is diplomatic: to improve Americans’ ability to communicate with people of different ethnicities, to create a population of Americans possessing advanced linguistic skills and cultural understanding that will enable them to improve international relations, to incentivize foreign language learning by providing study abroad opportunities and to ignite a lifelong interest in foreign language and culture among Americans.

“I’ll be staying with a host family,” Mangat said. “I’ll be attending school there to learn Arabic for six hours a day with 24 other students from the US.”

If this opportunity did not already seem great enough, get this: it’s free. The program is fully funded by the United States Department of State, meaning Mangat’s housing, food, transportation and other living expenses will be completely covered. They even provide students with cell phones so that they are not deserted and disconnected.

“I think Morocco’s architecture and the food and the culture is all really cool,” Mangat said. “And it’s all new. I also think [Arabic] is a beautiful language. There’s so much poetry that’s written in Arabic and it’d be cool to know.”

While Mangat chose to apply for learning Arabic in Morocco, there are several other languages and countries to choose from including: Mandarin Chinese in China and Taiwan, Hindi in India, Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia; Korean in South Korea; Persian (Tajiki) in Tajikistan, Russian in Russia, Estonia, Latvia or Moldova and Turkish in Turkey.

“I’ve always been very fascinated by other cultures and traveling the world,” Mangat said. “I also want to go into International Relations. From a policy standpoint and from a diplomacy standpoint, it’s really important to be able to speak multiple languages.”

This couldn’t be more true in today’s world. Given that there are constantly new headlines regarding turmoil in the Middle East, foreign relations and cultural understanding are a necessity.

“Dealing with the number of countries who do speak Arabic in the Middle East, and improving American policy relations with them, it helps a lot to actually speak the language,” Mangat said.

Still, the program is more than just a linguistic education: it’s an entire cultural experience and a true culture-shock test to adapt to new environments.

“It’s me and 24 other people in a country that we’ve never been to, staying and speaking a language I know nothing about,” Mangat said. “Language is the school part of it, but there’s also a whole level of culture because you’re there for 24 hours, seven days a week.”

Mangat decided to apply for the program after a friend of hers, University of Richmond freshman Meher Kaur, participated in it last summer.

“Many of my peers experienced their first trip outside of the US during the NSLI-Y program,” Kaur said. “The program had a huge impact on their lives and how they viewed the world outside of the US. It’s one thing to study Arabic, and it’s another to live in Moroccok, experience the culture and use the language daily.”

Kaur graduated from Poolesville High School in 2017. She was one of 14 students enrolled in the program that year—10 less than Mangat’s upcoming group of 24.

“I also enjoyed walking through the market with my friends after school, or walking to the beach at night,” Kaur said. “During our excursion to the city of Fez, the group decided to wake up early in the morning to watch the sunrise from the rooftop of our hotel—this was one of my favorite mornings.”

Another important aspect of the trip is that the students have to adjust to living with a host family. This is crucial to the program’s comprehensive mission, for what better way is there to become immersed into a country’s culture other than living amongst its ordinary citizens?

“The experiences I shared with my host family were invaluable, such as trips to the beach, walks to the city to get smoothies and hanging laundry on the roof of our building,” Kaur said.

For current seniors to whom this summer-long opportunity may be out of the question for, there’s no need to fret: there is a similar college course that extends a whole school year. The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) shares a similar goal to NSLI-Y in its aim to expand American interest in pursuit of foreign language study.

According to Mangat, she plans to participate in CLS and to continue her studies of Arabic upon entering Columbia University this fall.

“I think people should apply because it’s a really cool opportunity, and it’s a full scholarship,” Mangat said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your experience level is. They look for people who just want to learn.”