Sonoma teens chosen for State Department program
Sonoma Valley High School senior Ben Marcus-Willers will spend next year in China learning Mandarin, as part of a highly selective program fully underwritten by the U.S. State Department.
They have never met, but Sonoma teens Ben Marcus-Willers and Nina Sheridan both just learned they have been selected to participate in the State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Both will travel to China this summer as part of this highly selective program with all their expenses covered by the State Department.
Marcus-Willers will take a gap year to study Mandarin in Taiwan, starting in August, and Sheridan leaves in June for six weeks in a yet-to-be-determined city in China. Marcus-Willers is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School, Sheridan graduated from Presentation School and now attends Choate-Rosemary Hall high school in Connecticut.
Both learned about the program on the Our Schools page of the Index-Tribune.
Said Willers, “Last fall, I read an article in the Our Schools section of the I-T about Peter Armstrong’s trip to Russia with the State Department. I knew Peter, and was aware that he had gone to Russia, but I never really considered it as an option for myself. However, after learning more about the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, the more I learned the more I hoped I would be chosen, as it became my first choice for next year.”
Launched as part of a U.S. government initiative in 2006, the NSLI-Y program is administered in cooperation with American Councils for International Education. The goal of the program is to develop a cadre of young Americans with the language skills necessary to advance international dialogue and relationships. NSLI-Y alumni have become leaders in a variety of international fields in the private, academic and government sectors.
The process for acceptance is extremely competitive, since the entire program is free, including travel, accommodations, language instruction, a cell phone and some incidentals.
The value of the summer program to China exceeds $10,000, and the value of the school year program would be in the tens of thousands. Students apply in the fall with essays, transcripts and recommendations. Less than half of all applicants are then named semi-finalists who are invited to interview with program administrators or alumni.
The State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) provides merit-based scholarships to U.S. high school students and recent graduates interested in learning less-commonly studied foreign languages overseas. Applicants must be 15-to-18-years-old at the start of the program. Some applicants have a great deal of language experience, others do not, but all are evaluated on their potential to learn a language quickly, and on their interest in a career that involves languages. The program offers Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajik), Russian and Turkish. Students choose their top three options and finalists are placed in China, Egypt, India, Jordan, Korea, Morocco, Russia, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Orientation at the start of the program takes place either in Washington, D.C., or in New York city. Cities are selected in cooperation with U.S. embassies and consulates in the host locations. The Department of State continuously monitors current events in each of the NSLI-Y locations and, prior to departure, students attend a national orientation regarding safety and security.
The program features home-stays with host families who have been carefully screened and selected. Depending on the location, some students live in dorms and spend weekends with host.
Summer programs last six to eight weeks and usually run from late June to early August. Students receive 120 hours of classroom language instruction and they participate in cultural activities and community service designed to enhance their language skills.
Academic year programs are an eight-to-11-month language immersion experience with participants receiving at least 10 hours of intensive language instruction per week at local educational institutions, as well as cultural and volunteer activities throughout the school year.
Sheridan explained, “I’ve really enjoyed taking Mandarin at school, and I applied to several programs for the summer but had my heart set on NSLI-Y. Alumni post about their past experiences on the program and it seems like an incredible opportunity for a student like me who is interested in pursuing a career in foreign relations after college.”
NSLI-Y is part of a broader government-wide presidential initiative that “prepares American citizens to be leaders in a global world.” The goal of the NSLI-Y program is to spark a lifetime interest in language learning, particularly in those languages not commonly taught in U.S. schools, but that are of great important in international relations.
Sonoma students aged 15-to-18 who love languages and are interested in living and studying abroad, can apply at www.nsliforyouth.org.