Grant Smith was hoping to take a vacation this summer. As luck would have it, he got his wish.
Smith, 17, a junior at East High School, will be spending most of his summer in Morocco, thanks to a 2014-15 National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship.
The scholarship is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and managed by the American Councils for International Education. Smith received the scholarship because of his work in studying Arabic. He'll continue his studies during the six weeks he will spend in the North African country.
"I wanted to start taking Arabic because I love languages and do pretty well at them, and because I thought that particular language was really interesting," Smith said. "It's a challenging language to learn, but it's also really beautiful, both orally and in writing."
Smith attends Arabic class at Lincoln High School because it's not offered at East. He began the class in a summer program and stayed on through the school year. He said it's gradually getting easier, but he has "a ways to go before anyone will think I really know what I'm doing."
"I've read Arabic is one of the five most-challenging languages for native English speakers to learn, and I can see why," he said. "There's a different alphabet and the sounds are different; some don't sound like English speech at all, but are more in the back of the throat. Some people end up not being able to do it at all."
Smith said his Arabic teacher, Hicham Jenanne, had mentioned the scholarship a few months ago; Smith decided to apply although he didn't feel his chances would be good.
"The application process was really long and difficult; there were a ton of forms, and I think about 3,600 people applied for not a whole lot of spots," he said. "I didn't get my hopes up, so when I found out I was a finalist, I was shocked. I found out over spring break that I had been selected and I was just really happy."
Smith was one of 30 students chosen from across the country for the Morocco trip, and he said he's looking forward to meeting new friends and staying with the host family that will be chosen for him.
"I'd like to go to college abroad, so this will sort of be good practice," said Smith, who hopes to study international relations. "I'm hoping my Arabic will greatly improve while I'm there."
Jenanne said Smith earned the scholarship through his abilities and work ethic, and he looks forward to watching him continue to master Arabic.
"I have great respect for Grant as an individual and as a student," Jenanne said. "His ability to learn world languages is astonishing. After taking advanced Spanish and French, he's now challenging himself with one of the hardest languages to learn.
"I know how much receiving this scholarship means to him," Jennane said. "It will allow him to broaden his educational horizons to work toward his future career plans and success. I cannot think of anyone more deserving."