June 06, 2013

Kerong Kelly
Kerong Kelly '16

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By Matt Hughes

LEWISBURG, Pa. — As conflict in the Middle East — revolutions, terrorist attacks and civil war — remains an ever-present threat to global security, the United States and international organizations such as the U.N. need more speakers of English and Arabic to help bridge the gap between the Arab world and the West. Kerong Kelly wants to be part of that bridge.

Kelly, a sophomore at Bucknell University, has gained a valuable opportunity to take her study of Arabic to a deeper level this summer as part of a highly selective government-sponsored language immersion program.

Starting June 12, she will spend 10 weeks studying and traveling in the Sultanate of Oman at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula through a U.S. State Department scholarship program. || Read Kelly's blog from Oman.

"I love studying languages and how you see how people in different cultures interact, not just on the basis of language but everyday traditions and routines," Kelly said. "To know Arabic, I thought it would be essential to immerse myself in the culture and the history of the countries I want to study."

Kelly is one of around 600 undergraduate and graduate students admitted to the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program, a U.S. State Department effort to dramatically increase the number of Americans proficient in some 13 languages it deems of critical need for diplomatic relations. This year the program accepted 631 of approximately 4,900 applicants, giving it an acceptance rate of approximately 13 percent and placing it among the most competitive scholarship programs in the United States, according to the State Department.

Kelly was encouraged to apply to the CLS program by Assistant Professor of Arabic and Arabic Program Director Martin Isleem, who said he was impressed by Kelly's enthusiasm in learning about the language and cultures of the Middle East.

"She is always striving to achieve a higher level of proficiency in the Arabic language and better understand the Arab culture, traditions and values," Isleem said. "Her application to the Critical Language Scholarship Program is a great example of such enthusiasm and interest, and her acceptance is truly an honor."

Kelly's enthusiasm also represents a growing interest in the Arabic language and Arab cultures on campus, Isleem said. Kelly is the third Bucknell student to study abroad in the Arabic-speaking world this year, and the University recently approved a minor in Arabic.

Following an orientation in Washington, D.C., Kelly will spend 10 weeks studying at the University of Nizwa and participating in cultural-education field trips in Oman, with all tuition and travel expenses paid by the federal government. She will receive 20 hours of classroom instruction each week in the language, and is expected to communicate exclusively in Arabic for the duration of the trip, in and out of the classroom.

Kelly, who began her study of Arabic after coming to Bucknell last fall, anticipated the program would rapidly accelerate her knowledge and ability of the Middle-Eastern tongue, her second foreign language in addition to French. She plans to declare majors in international relations and French, with a minor in Arabic, and hopes to develop an expert's understanding of politics in North Africa, where both her foreign languages are prevalent.

She also anticipates focusing on conflict resolution within her international relations major, and hopes to one day play peacemaker as an employee of the United Nations.

"Foreign policy — learning different ways to mediate situations between different countries — now is even more important," she said.