Three Rice students win Dept. of State Critical Language Scholarships

Three Rice students are among the approximately 575 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to receive a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS).

Abby Downing-Beaver, Monica Matsumoto and Graham West will spend seven to 10 weeks in intensive language institutes this summer in one of the 14 countries where Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish or Urdu languages are spoken.

The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. The program provides fully funded group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment activities; participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their professional careers.

Downing-Beaver, a Martel College rising junior from Missouri City, Texas, will study Russian in Kazan, Russia.

Abby Downing-Beaver

“I’m a linguistics major with a concentration in foreign language, specifically Russian,” Downing-Beaver said. “I started studying Russian on my own at the Houston Russian Cultural Center while I was a junior in high school because my school didn’t offer anything beyond Spanish and French, both of which I was already studying. I came to enjoy it just as a fun learning experience.

“When I came to Rice, I was happy to take a more formal approach to learning the language, and I’m really looking forward to an immersion experience to further my language skills,” she said. Downing-Beaver hopes to use her improved understanding of Russian in further studies and in her professional life. “I enjoy learning new languages, which is why I hope to take a position, possibly with the government, that will allow me to use them,” she said.

Matsumoto, a Brown College rising junior from Charlottesville, Va., will study Arabic in Tangier, Morocco, at the American School of Tangier and the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.

Monica Matsumoto

“I first started studying Arabic in 2009, when I received the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study Arabic in Cairo for 10 months after high school before entering college,” Matsumoto said. “I’ve continued studying Arabic at Rice and have always been interested in pursuing a career in medicine.”

Matsumoto said she is interested in going into pediatric global health with a focus on the Middle East/North Africa region. “Eventually, I would love to work for the World Health Organization or a nongovernmental organization to help develop health policy to improve access to and quality of care. I hope to use my knowledge of the local language and culture to connect with the people, understand their actual needs and work to develop effective policy,” she said.

West, a Sid Richardson College senior from Keller, Texas, will study Arabic in Tunis, Tunisia, at the Centre d’Études Maghrebines a Tunis for two months with his CLS. He will then use his Garside Prize grant from the Rice History Department to live in Beirut for three months.

Graham West

“I have developed a passion for U.S.-Middle Eastern relations throughout my time at Rice, both by studying political science, history and Asian studies as well as through programs at the Baker Institute,” West said. “In a region of the world with which we have a serious need for greater understanding and dialogue, learning the language seems to me the most immediate way to affect policy change.

“I would ultimately like to work for the U.S. State Department, do research on regional politics at policy think tanks and/or work with nongovernment organizations that do humanitarian work in the Middle East, so I have no doubt that on-the-ground experience in Tunis and language instruction from the CLS will benefit me in any of those fields.”

West will graduate May 12.


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