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Six OU Students Awarded Prestigious Critical Language Scholarships for 2019

We’re excited to announce that six exceptional OU students have received the US Department of State’s prestigious Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for the summer of 2019! Four alternates were also named. This is a record number of CLS recipients for OU, which had four students selected in 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’s students* will be headed to Oman, Georgia, India, Jordan and Tajikistan. Read on to learn about the scholarship winners, their love of language and culture, and their future goals.

Miguel Vazquez

Year: junior

Language: Arabic

Program site: Ibri, Oman

Majors: International Security Studies and Arabic

Hometown: Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, TX

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

I have been interested in the Middle East and North Africa since my first experiences at Model United Nations conferences in 2012. Therefore, studying Arabic seemed logical when I picked my first courses at OU. Eventually, I was prompted to apply for CLS because the program seems academically demanding and culturally enriching, which I believe it will help develop my Arabic skills.

What are you most looking forward to about your program in Oman?

I heard Oman is like a hidden gem because it is not the most attractive touristic destination even when the country has beaches and beautiful landscapes. I previously volunteered with Sooner Jump Start to help Omani students with their assimilation of student life in the US. Therefore, I am looking forward to visiting their country and experiencing their culture.

Have you studied abroad previously?

I lived in Mexico most of my life, but besides that I have not visited another country.

What are your goals for the future?

It might be implicit, but one of my goals is to become proficient in Arabic. After CLS, I aspire to participate in the capstone year in Meknes, Morocco by Flagship next year. Then, I hope to start a master's degree.

Brittney Danielle Patton

Year: junior

Language: Russian

Program site: Tbilisi, Georgia

Major: English Literature

Hometown: Indiahoma, OK

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

I choose to study Russian because I have always had an interest in Slavic literature and folklore. I am an English Literature major, and I am particularly interested in Post-Colonial studies, so I have always had a passion for Caucasian Literature. I actually didn’t know anything about CLS until my friend, Noah Coen, was applying while we were together in St. Petersburg. He told me about the program and encouraged me to apply as well, and we were both accepted! So, not only am I excited to have been accepted to this amazing program, I am also thrilled that I will be able to experience this with one of my good friends.

What are you most looking forward to about your program in Georgia?

Honestly, the city and the country itself! I’ve been searching online to acquaint myself with the location I’ll be studying at this summer, and it is absolutely beautiful! I am also quite thrilled to be have placed in the Caucasus region, since that is my area of interest for my Russian studies.

Have you studied abroad previously?

Last fall I was lucky enough to be able to study at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in St. Petersburg, Russia.

What are your goals for the future?

I am going to apply for a MFA program in Creative Writing. I have always been very passionate about writing and literature, so this feels like the perfect next step for me. Ultimately, I hope to work in the publishing or teaching world. I hope to use my Russian language background to shed a light on some of the wonderful literature of the Caucasus that if often ignored in Western literature spheres.

Shreya Nuguri

Year: sophomore

Language: Hindi

Program site: India

Major: Microbiology

Hometown: Hyderabad, India and Oklahoma City

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

I am strongly committed to the goal of alleviating healthcare disparities in India. Learning Hindi will not only facilitate my understanding of a language, but also of people I call my own, and an immersive environment such as the Critical Language Scholarship will provide me the perfect environment to do so. Soon, I want to volunteer with Medical Brigades, an organization that works with communities in India to implement health interventions. I eventually hope to gain enough competence in Hindi to effectively lead a Medical Brigade mission on my own, successfully promoting equality of health and life between US and India.

What are you most looking forward to about your program in India?

I am looking forward to actually getting a chance in not only intensive language learning but also an opportunity to travel to a different place in India I haven’t seen before. My childhood was centered primarily in Hyderabad, Telangana, and it would be nice to experience and travel to another area of my home country.

Have you studied abroad previously?

I have never had any prior study abroad experiences.

What are your goals for the future? I hope to enroll into medical school and become a surgeon in the future. The location is undetermined, however, I do know that I will want to travel back and forth to India for medical camps and/or on medical brigade mission trips.

Britt Leake

Year: senior (4th year)

Language: Arabic

Program site: Amman, Jordan

Majors: International Studies (BA/MA), Arabic and French

Hometown: Wichita, KS

Why did you choose to study Arabic, and what prompted you to apply for the CLS? I chose to start studying Arabic for a couple of reasons. The first was that I happened to grow up in a city with a large Lebanese community and was exposed to Lebanese culture constantly, and so out of curiosity I had asked some of my Lebanese friends to teach me how to read and write Arabic as well as some basic aspects of the Lebanese dialect. The second reason is the Arab Spring, which began right at the time that I started becoming interested in politics more generally. Ever since then I've been reading about and studying Middle Eastern history and politics as much as possible, and learning Arabic is an important part of that. As for why I applied for CLS, it's a program with a reputation for high-quality, rigorous language instruction, something that I definitely want in order to push my Arabic to a higher level. Additionally, I do not have the financial means to pay for more study abroad trips, and the fact that CLS is essentially free makes it a very accessible program for students without the thousands of dollars that some language training programs can cost.

What are you most looking forward to about your program in Jordan? I'm looking forward to visiting a new country and learning a new dialect of Arabic, as each Arabic-speaking country has its own unique dialect. But to be perfectly honest, the thing I'm looking forward to the most is the food. The Levant has one of the best cuisines on earth in my opinion, and I fully intend to take advantage of my time in Jordan to indulge in as much hummus, falafel and shawarma as I can eat.

Have you studied abroad previously?

I spent a summer in Morocco in 2016 studying Arabic, and I took courses in Middle Eastern history for a semester through an exchange program at Université Bordeaux Montaigne in Bordeaux, France in 2017.

What are your goals for the future?

As a member of the Arabic Flagship, I intend to apply for the Flagship's year abroad program in Morocco, but I'm also planning on applying for a Fulbright research grant as well as various PhD programs, most likely in history, in which my Arabic would be useful. As for a career, I would ultimately love to go into politics and run for a seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives. In the interim, however, my hope is to become a professor of contemporary Middle Eastern and South Asian politics and history so I can keep reading, writing and researching for years to come.

Noah Coen

Year: junior

Language: Russian

Program site: Tbilisi, Georgia

Majors: Russian and Eastern European Studies

Hometown: Edmond, OK

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

I am interested in both historical Slavic linguistics and US-Russian relations. For both of these fields, a knowledge of Russian is essential. I was originally inspired to apply for the CLS by Jaci Gandenberger, who was my Global Engagement Fellowship advisor my freshman year here at OU. Since then, Dr. Emily Johnson, Dr. Rebecca Cruise, Dr. Matt McGarry and Bushra Asif have all helped me in the process of deciding to apply and the application process. My good friend Hennessey Chism was a recipient last year for CLS Arabic, so talking to her about her experiences was also beneficial.

What are you most looking forward to about your program in Georgia?

I am most looking forward to discovering, in-person, the linguistic make-up of Tbilisi. I speak no Georgian at all, so I am interested to see how much of a barrier that ends up being while studying there. I am also interested in comparing my experiences here in Saint Petersburg, Russia to those in Tbilisi. The Russophone world is incredibly diverse, and I am looking forward to experiencing that firsthand.

Have you studied abroad previously?

I did a summer study abroad program in Clermont-Ferrand, France with CAS Leadership Scholars and a Spanish program in Madrid, Spain. This academic year (2018-19), I am studying abroad in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

What are your goals for the future?

I plan on applying for a Marshall Scholarship and, whether or not I am accepted, pursuing a master’s degree in the UK. After that, I plan on returning to the US for my PhD and pursuing a career in academia.

*The sixth scholarship recipient is Corey Standley, an International Security Studies major who will study Persian in Tajikistan. Corey did not provide additional information for this blog.

We couldn’t be more proud to have these students representing OU around the world! Interested in applying for a critical language scholarship? Visit to learn more, and follow OUCIS on Twitter and Facebook to hear about upcoming CLS information sessions.

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