My name is Ramsey Cardwell, and I am a third-year PhD student in Educational Research Methodology. I am originally from Greensboro, and I started studying Chinese more than ten years ago as an undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill. During undergrad, I studied abroad to both China and Taiwan. As a PhD student here at the UNCG School of Education, I applied for a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in order to revive and further improve my Chinese language skills, particularly academic/written Chinese, with the goal of incorporating Chinese into my dissertation project in the area of second language proficiency testing. I applied for CLS two times as an undergrad and did not get it, so I am very appreciative to have had this opportunity.
My CLS site was in Dalian, which is in northeast China near North Korea. It was an 8-week long experience in total, which seems short, but it felt much longer due to the intensity of the program. My favorite part of the program was living with a local host family, which was an invaluable opportunity for practicing the language and learning more about Chinese culture and daily life. We had four or five hours of class each day during the week with weekends off, and several hours of homework each night. CLS was definitely the most intensive language learning experience I’ve ever had; my communicative ability in Chinese increased noticeably over the course of the program.
Of course, no experience can be 100% positive; I faced some challenges while participating in CLS. For example, living with a host family requires sacrificing some degree of privacy and autonomy. Also, China is known for its intense internet censorship, which meant that most sites I use on daily basis — such as Google, Facebook, and even UNCG email — were not accessible. As a result, I felt especially cut off from my life back home. Additionally, we were advised by the program to be extremely cautious in discussing sensitive topics, particularly what were called the “Three Ts”: Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. The internet censorship and self-censorship felt very restrictive, but also made me very appreciative of the freedoms and privileges I enjoy in the U.S. And while I feel it is necessary to acknowledge the challenges of living and studying in a different culture, overall my experience was overwhelmingly positive.
I would strongly recommend anyone at UNCG studying one of the CLS languages (Japanese, Chinese, and Russian) to consider applying for this scholarship. Several CLS programs do not require any previous study of the language (e.g., Swahili, Hindi, and Korean, among others). I would suggest that interested students speak with their language teachers and UNCG’s Global Engagement Office for help in crafting a competitive application. The acceptance rate for CLS is on average around 10%, so it is very competitive. But the effort of applying is well worth the rewarding experience.
Thank you for sharing your CLS experience with the SOE community, Ramsey! Click here to learn more about the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.