While most Rutherford County students spent the first week of August shopping for school supplies and clothes, Sidartha Sinha was in class on another continent.
Known as Sid to most at Smyrna High, the senior spent seven weeks of his summer vacation immersing himself in the Egyptian culture.
Sinha arrived back home on Aug. 7, two days before school started.
"I didn't know what my schedule was or anything. I'm still adjusting," he said.
He was awarded a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth to learn a language not commonly taught stateside. He first heard of the program, developed in 2006, during Spanish class last year.
"The teacher was reading the bulletin and it said 600 scholarships were available. I checked it out and thought this was something I could do," Sinha said.
The language program offers scholarships for those interested in learning Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Turkish. Sinha chose Arabic because he thought it would better serve him in his career plans. Sinha plans to attend college and pursue a double major in engineering and international relations.
"I want to do engineering on a foreign scale. I thought Arabic would be a better choice at this point," he said.
President of the school's Interact Club sponsored by the Smyrna Rotary, Sinha and his family moved to the states from India when he was 3. His family speaks Hindi at home and he said Arabic is similar.
"They both derive from Sanskrit but some of the words are similar. It's like comparing Spanish and Italian, but the reading and writing are totally different," he said.
While in Cairo, Egypt, Sinha and other students enrolled in the program attended school five days a week for six hours. Class was strictly focused on reading, writing and conversing in the new language. By the time he left, he was able to hold short conversations, read street signs and write short paragraphs.
"People there thought I was Egyptian until they learned I didn't speak Arabic well," Sinha said. He is still enrolled in online classes and hopes to find a tutor to assist him.
During his trip, he was assigned to live with a local family who had a 15-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter. Both Sinha and the son are avid soccer players, so they bonded playing some pick-up games and watching the World Cup on television.
"Every little kid on every street corner has a soccer ball," he said, adding that players there are more aggressive. "We played one pick-up game with one of the program's volunteers. When I beat him to the ball, he pushed me down. The next time I got close to him I was prepared. He ended up in the mud."
In addition to playing soccer for the high school, Sinha also volunteers in a number of ways. He works with Read to Succeed and won the organization's 2005 spelling bee, serves on the student council and tutors other students.
"It's whatever I can get my hands on," he said.
Principal Robert "Bud" Raikes is glad Sinha got the opportunity to travel abroad.
"He's a special kid. He's just very helpful," he said.