Baylor Senior Receives Critical Language Scholarship To China

April 15, 2009

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

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

The CLS Program provides fully funded seven-to-10 week group-based intensive language instruction and extensive cultural enrichment experiences held overseas at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels for U.S. citizen undergraduate, master's and Ph.D. students. Yeakley will spend two months studying intermediate Chinese at Soochow University in Suzhou, China.

"It's a really incredible opportunity," Yeakley said. "The way they have the program set up is perfect. We'll be learning Chinese in China from Chinese teachers. We're learning Chinese all day. They call it an intensive immersion program, so to learn a language, that's the way to go."

"Chinese is considered one of the most challenging languages to learn by non-native speakers," said Dr. Xin Wang, assistant professor of Chinese and interdisciplinary studies and associate director of Asian studies at Baylor. "This on-site learning opportunity will help Melissa improve her language proficiency, strengthen her knowledge and understanding about Chinese culture and society, and prepare her for her future career and study in U.S.-China relations."

The CLS program 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. In addition to Chinese, the program offers intensive overseas study in the critical need foreign languages of Arabic, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Korean, Persian, Russian and Azerbaijani. The critical language initiative was launched by President George W. Bush 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 later apply their critical language skills in their future academic and professional careers.

Yeakley, who aspires to a career with the State Department as a foreign service officer or political analyst, has long been interested in foreign languages and international issues. She 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 Yeakley came to Baylor, she 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.

"As someone who's passionate about foreign languages, you go to China and other countries, and everyone is learning English and another language," said Yeakley, who will graduate from Baylor in May 2010. "It's invaluable that American students and Americans in general are speaking other languages, because with learning the language, you learn so much more about the culture than just studying the facts about the culture. When you can relate to people in their own tongue, it's completely different and more rewarding."

Last summer, Yeakley returned to China as one of 15 students in the Baylor in China study-abroad program, led by Wang.

"Of all of the teachers I've taken, Dr. Wang been the best foreign language teacher I've ever had," Yeakley said. "He took 15 of us to China last summer and taught us along the way. We went to different cities in China, and that was such an awesome experience."

"It takes tremendous effort and courage to be proficient in the language," Wang said. "Melissa is an industrious and intelligent student. She would practice repeatedly with her fellow classmates in speaking and writing when she learns something new in Chinese. She is also interested in learning things related to Chinese culture and society besides the language."

Baylor's language program in Chinese continues to expand, Wang said, with about 100 students enrolled at all levels of Chinese courses. He 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.

"Students with adequate Chinese language skills are the most sought-after thing in the business world these days as the interdependence of the American and Chinese economies has been increasing," Wang said. "I hope Melissa's experience will encourage other Baylor students to learn Chinese language and culture in the future."