Four UM Students Awarded Scholarships by U.S. State Department

Students majoring in international studies and modern languages studying abroad this summer

Biloxi native Olivia George is studying the Korean language and culture this summer in South Korea. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Four University of Mississippi students are spending their summer overseas immersed in a variety of cultures and languages.

These students will put their linguistic knowledge to the test across the globe after being awarded the 2018 Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

International studies majors Olivia George, a rising junior from Biloxi; Paul Hunt, a rising senior from Madison, Alabama; Isabel Spafford, a rising sophomore from Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Emily Wang, a rising junior from Randolph, New Jersey, each received the award to study critical languages this summer. All four are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Croft Institute of International Studies.

“I cannot begin to describe what an amazing opportunity it is to be a part of the CLS Korean program this summer,” said George, who is studying Korean in Gwangju, South Korea. “Studying Korean at Ole Miss and interacting with the Korean exchange community there has taught me so much about cultural exchange, a process in which you learn not only about the world you live in but also about yourself – your aspirations, your values and even your limits.”

The Critical Language Scholarship program gives undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to study and master one of 14 critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu. These languages are not taught as often in U.S. schools as some other languages.

Emily Wang is spending the summer in Amman, Jordan, studying the Arabic language as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Submitted photo

More than 550 students across the country received the scholarship this year. The goal of the program is to encourage U.S. citizens to learn critical foreign languages and to prepare students for a globalized workforce, ultimately allowing them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Each student spends eight to 10 weeks in the country of his or her chosen language living with host families. The program includes intensive language instruction combined with cultural enrichment activities to provide students with opportunities to master the language.

Hunt is spending the summer in Lucknow, India, learning Urdu; Spafford is traveling to Ibri, Oman, to study Arabic; and Wang is learning learn Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

George hopes to use these language skills to work with Korean companies or organization and conduct research about Korean society in the future.

“Through this program, I hope that I can improve my language skills and better my understanding of Korean culture,” she said.

Wang hopes to improve in Arabic through the program.

“Language learning is a means to gain new perspectives and eyes upon the world, so I am very ecstatic and honored to have received the CLS award in Jordan,” Wang said. “Since intensive and immersive language-learning goes hand-in-hand with linguistic success, more time I can spend immersing myself abroad will correlate with my success.”

Spafford is excited to study Arabic in a country where the language is spoken.

“Being able to see how Arabic is used by those who think and dream in it adds a dynamic to my studies that deepens both my ability and my desire to learn the language,” Spafford said. “In addition, learning alongside intelligent, like-minded students from across the country affords me connections that will be valuable to me across my career and friendships that make this this intense program a joy.

“I hope to use Arabic to work with refugees, ideally through the foreign service.”

Paul Hunt

Although this program does not require any previous language experience, nearly all Ole Miss students who receive the scholarship are committed to their chosen language and have studied it for several semesters or years, said Tim Dolan, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. The ONSA office is housed in the Honors College but works with all Ole Miss students.

“CLS builds upon the students’ prior language skills and gives them an unparalleled immersion in and exposure to the nuances of culture that can only come from living with native speakers and exploring places with historical and cultural significance,” Dolan said.

Faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, Croft Institute for International Studies, Chinese Language Flagship Program and the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College all work to recruit and prepare students to be competitive in education and the work force.

Isabel Spafford is studying Arabic this summer in Ibri, Oman, as a Critical Language Scholarship recipient from the U.S. Department of State. Submitted photo

“The CLS program takes the best and the brightest of young people and helps them achieve a high degree of linguistic and cultural competence in areas of the world that are vital for our country’s political and economic future,” said Dan O’Sullivan, chair and professor of modern languages. “We couldn’t be prouder of the University of Mississippi students that have been accepted into the program.”

The university has a reputation of attracting students who are serious about studying another language, which provides the program with many qualified candidates, Dolan said.

“The Critical Language Scholarship program encourages students from diverse backgrounds and from a wide range of majors to apply,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for science, engineering, math and computer science students to learn a vital language and explore professional opportunities abroad.”

The CLS program began in 2006 and has awarded scholarships to more than 5,700 American students. Students interested in learning more about the program or other national scholarships should contact Dolan at