Scholarship programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are allowing two Western Michigan University students to pursue their studies abroad.
Jeffrey Heyn, a senior from Highland, Mich., majoring in criminal justice, received a 2010 Critical Language Scholarship amounting to about $10,000 to study Arabic through the scholarship's Intensive Summer Institutes Program.
Emily Diane Miller, a senior from Mattawan, Mich., majoring in social work, received a $4,000 award from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program to study South Africa's social and political history as well as the Sesotho language.
Heyn, an Arabic minor and member of WMU's Lee Honors College, is using his Critical Language Scholarship to participate in an intensive 10-week summer institute at the Alexandria Centre for Languages in Alexandria. When he completes the institute, which began May 31 and will end Aug. 1, he will have gained one year's worth of academic language instruction.
The Critical Language Scholarship helps students to study critical-need languages overseas and is part of a wider U.S. effort to dramatically expand the number of Americans studying and mastering these languages. This year, about 575 undergraduate and graduate students out of nearly 5,300 applicants received its merit-based scholarship to study abroad.
Heyn spent fall 2008 studying at the American University of Cairo and summer 2009 participating in an intensive Arabic language program at the University of Michigan.
"I started studying Arabic out of a curiosity about the language and the realization that Arabic will be an important language to know in the future," Heyn says of his foray into Arabic as a WMU sophomore in 2007. "But after studying abroad in Egypt and experiencing the classes and interacting with the people, I feel like I have assimilated to a certain extent into Middle Eastern culture, and it has become a way of life for me."
Heyn notes that faculty and staff members in and outside of WMU's study abroad office were instrumental in helping him prepare his application package for the Critical Language Scholarship as well as other study abroad scholarships. He plans to attend law school after graduating this coming December. His intends to focus his studies on international law as well as Arabic and at some point, he hopes to work in the Arab world.
Miller is one of 850 students from a pool of 2,050 applicants that received a Gilman Scholarship for 2009-10. She traveled to the University of Cape Town in South Africa this past January, and is returning to the United States this month.
The Gilman Scholarship program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go. It provides awards of up to $5,000 to undergraduate students who study abroad for up to one year and demonstrate financial need.
"I chose South Africa because I find the social and political history of the country fascinating," Miller says. "The coming of democracy in 1994 has led to such dramatic social changes and opportunities. It is a place of great strife, but also great hope."
Miller adds that having been in the country for an extended period of time, she's come to an understanding that South Africa is comparable to a big puzzle.
"There are so many layers of history and social identity and changing norms," she says. "The most challenging part is questioning my own relationship to different forms of oppression and responsibilities as a 'global citizen'."
No stranger to WMU's study abroad office, Miller also is the recipient of a $4,000 University award through the President's Grant for Study Abroad program.
Prior to starting her Cape Town studies, she spent two weeks in Berlin attending a student academic conference. The conference was held for students from Chemnitz, Germany, and from a WMU class Miller took that studied the Cold War. Her prior global travels include a month-long tour of southern Mexico and Guatemala in January and February 2008.