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Four OU Students Awarded Prestigious Critical Language Scholarships

We’re excited to announce that four of OU’s best and brightest have been awarded the US Department of State’s prestigious Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for the summer of 2018! The CLS program was founded as part of a government effort to promote the study of 14 “critical” foreign languages — those that are underrepresented but play an important role in national security and the world economy.

Students selected for the summer program enjoy two fully funded months of language and cultural immersion in a city where their chosen language is spoken. They will reside with host families, take intensive language courses and participate in cultural enrichment experiences.

This year marks the first time since 2008 that OU has had three or more students accepted into this extremely competitive program, and they will each be headed to a different exciting locale: Oman, Russia, India and Jordan. Read on to learn about these four extraordinary students, their love of language and their ambitious goals for the future.

Hennessey Chism

Year: sophomore

Language: Arabic

Program site: Ibri, Oman

Majors: Arabic and International Security Studies

Minor: Constitutional Studies

Hometown: Enid, OK

Why did you choose to study Arabic, and what prompted you to apply for the CLS?

I started studying Arabic because of the refugee crisis. I felt that there were not enough people who could communicate and sympathize with refugees, so I decided that I would major in Arabic in college. I applied for CLS because I really value my language skills and I believe that I would regress exponentially if I weren’t able to study Arabic all summer. Additionally, CLS is a very intensive program that I hope will develop my Arabic skills to a new level.

What are you most looking forward to about the program and studying in Oman?

I am most excited about the fact that Oman is a lesser-known Arab country, but they have incredible things to offer there, like beaches and sea life. I am least familiar with the culture in Gulf countries, so I am very excited to get to learn more about it.

Have you had any prior study abroad experiences?

I haven’t yet studied abroad, but I have plans to go to Jordan for the fall of 2018.

What are your goals for the future?

In the future I hope to attend law school and study International Law and Human Rights, then open up a clinic for refugees and displaced persons in the US.

David Louden

Year: junior

Language: Russian

Program site: Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Major: Russian

Minors: International Studies and LGBTQ Studies

Hometown: Noble, OK

Why did you choose to study Russian, and what prompted you to apply for the CLS?

I originally fell in love with Russian when I was 14, because I thought the language was really beautiful. As I learned more about it, I became interested in the grammar, literature and culture. I started taking Russian classes at OU concurrently as a junior in high school because I couldn’t imagine waiting until college to begin taking formal classes. I first heard about CLS from one of my professors when I was a freshman. I applied because I was anxious to go abroad and put my language skills to use.

What are you most looking forward to about the program and studying in Russia?

I am most excited about the intensive language classes I will be taking. I absolutely love speaking and hearing the language, so I’m very much looking forward to being in a completely immersive environment for two months. I’m very excited about the opportunity to improve my Russian while also experiencing a new city and meeting new people!

Have you had any prior study abroad experiences?

I studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia in the fall of 2016.

What are your goals for the future?

After I graduate from OU, I plan to earn a PhD in Slavic studies. I would really love to teach and do research, so I am highly considering becoming a professor. I am also interested in working for an organization that would allow me to work with Russian refugees.

Ella Parsons

Year: junior

Language: Hindi

Program site: Jaipur, India

Majors: Microbiology and Anthropology

Minors: Mathematics and Chemistry

Hometowns: Toulouse, France/Boulder, CO/Geneva, Switzerland/Norman, OK

Why did you choose to study Hindi, and what prompted you to apply for the CLS?

I applied for the CLS when I was strongly considering spending next fall in New Delhi with the School for International Training (SIT) to study community health and how it related to social inequality, particularly through the lens of gender. I am still debating if I intend to pursue SIT's program, as WHO considers Delhi’s air quality a public health emergency. Regardless of where I choose to study next year, I still believe that with a rapidly growing population and developing industries in technologies and pharmacy, India is a crucial location to study public health.

What are you most looking forward to about the program and studying in India?

I am elated to learn Hindi. I am already fluent in French and conversational in Italian. I am really excited to learn a completely new language with a completely new alphabet, unlike any of the languages I have learned. Along with learning a language, I am eager to learn more about a new culture in a new place. Furthermore, I am excited about the provided cultural excursions as part of the CLS program. Through these excursions I will have the opportunity to learn more about the country, through food, dance and culture.

Have you had any prior study abroad experiences?

I spent spring of 2017 in Arezzo, Italy with OU.

What are your goals for the future?

I aspire to pursue a research career in epidemiology, in which I help conduct research at either an academic or non-governmental organization. After my undergraduate studies, I am considering following up my CLS with a Fulbright in India, in which I will conduct public health research. However, regardless of being granted a Fulbright, I intend to go to graduate school after completing my degrees at OU to obtain a PhD.

Sophie Richardson

Year: junior

Language: Arabic

Program site: Amman, Jordan

Major: Chemical Biosciences

Minors: Arabic and Spanish

Hometown: Sioux Falls, SD

Why did you choose to study Arabic, and what prompted you to apply for the CLS?

I chose Arabic because of the beautiful script and because my grandparents spoke the language, living in Alexandria, Egypt. I also love Arabic culture, food, people and music, so I’ve enjoyed that aspect as well. I applied to CLS because I wanted to travel to the Middle East, and since Arabic has many different spoken dialects I wanted to learn one of them in addition to my MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) training in class. No one speaks MSA in everyday conversation, so it can be frustrating to try to understand!

What are you most looking forward to about the program and studying in Jordan?

I’m most excited to live with a Jordanian host family and get to practice Arabic! I also plan on eating a lot of food while I’m there. I’m SO excited to see Petra and Wadi Rum and the other beautiful attractions in Jordan. I secretly hope to attend an Arab wedding, but I don’t think that’s part of the curriculum…

Have you had any prior study abroad experiences?

I went to Honors at Oxford last summer, but other than that, I mainly travel to Greece because my parents are Greek.

What are your goals for the future?

I’m applying to medical school this summer, and I want to specialize in OB/GYN. If possible, I might defer acceptance in order to complete my capstone year for the Arabic Flagship Program in Meknes, Morocco (hopefully I get accepted). After residency, etc., I plan on doing some missions with MSF (Doctors without Borders) in the MENA region as well as using Arabic in practice with patients in the US.


We couldn’t be more proud to have Hennessey, David, Ella and Sophie representing OU around the world! We wish them the best of luck as they embark upon their adventures.

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