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From left, Latoya Lee, Ricky Sosulski, Dellvin Williams and Christine Hubbard 

Harpur's critical Four

Four Harpur students are spread around the world — India, Tunisia, Russia and Korea — after being accepted to the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship Program

There are approximately 1.6 million college students studying foreign languages in the United States. Only 575 earned U.S. State Department Critical Language scholarships in 2011. Proving the strength of its language programs, Binghamton University produced four of them.

Over the summer, Critical Language scholars stretch across the world to 14 countries where the population speaks Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish or Urdu. The scholars study the indigenous language in intensive language institutes, promising not to speak English.

“They actually threatened us,” Christine Hubbard laughs and mimics a schoolmarm. “‘We can kick you off the trip — no English at all.’ I think that’s going to be kind of scary but that’s the whole purpose of why I’m there — to really learn the language.”

Hubbard is double majoring in biology and Russian and became close to fluent last year while working with orphans in northern Russia as a Harpur Fellow. But she always fell back on English when she had difficulty because her host family spoke it very well and translated.

But this time that crutch will be gone.

“Just knowing that I’m not allowed to speak English, I think, is something that is going to push me out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Especially when really getting to know Russian people.”

The fully funded Critical Language scholars spend 20 hours a week studying in class and two hours a day with a tutor and work on projects and field studies. They are selected for the program because they plan to continue their language study after they complete the scholarship and apply their language skills in their future careers.

Hubbard plans to use Russian to aid people in need.

“I’m a people person and I really just want to help people,” she says. “And I’ve been granted a lot of opportunities to study Russian so that I’d almost be letting myself down if I didn’t see where it could take me.”

Binghamton University sociology PhD candidate Latoya Lee says she’ll use the Hindi she learns in India to deepen her research into new reproductive technologies and how they travel abroad, specifically to India, where surrogacy has boomed over the past six years.

But unlike Hubbard, Lee has never studied the language. So while she won’t become fluent over the summer, she will have a great start as the State Department says the program is the equivalent of a whole year of normal classroom studies. And Lee will have an incredible introduction to the culture, which she could never get through books and lectures.

“I expect this to be a really great and humbling experience for me,” she says. “I have some ideas for research questions and things like that that I want to study and examine. But I think going there and learning the culture and being there for almost three months is definitely going to change my ideas and research questions.”

Dellvin Williams is also a sociology PhD candidate, though he does have some experience with Arabic, the language he’s studying in Tunisia.

A couple of years ago, he studied Arabic in Hyderabad, India, hoping to gain a critical tool for conducting research on water as a source of social and environmental transformation in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Language training opens entire new worlds for the learner,” he says. “It provides a new and deepened access into the culture, into the social context of the people and into the scholarly research through Arabic sources and material. Language really helps one’s scholarship.”

Tunisia fits perfectly into his scholarship because water will become a key source of security concern and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. After his summer language study ends, he plans to stay to conduct deeper research.

“Given this is the summer after the Arab spring, I think there are a lot of possibilities,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it. I don’t go with any preconceived notions about anything. But I’m really open to learning and to growing and to sharing in a way that is going to inform my learning of Arabic.”

Ricky Sosulski is double majoring in Korean studies and linguistics at Binghamton University. He was first introduced to the culture through a couple of Korean friends.

“So I figured I’d take a language course and I fell in love with it,” he says.

As an activist on political issues like women’s rights and gay rights, Sosulksi says Korea still holds onto many stereotypes and he hopes to help dispel some of them. After college, he envisions combining his expertise in Korean with his activism and going back to Korea to teach.

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Last Updated: 8/17/11