Hello! My name is Halden, and I am the NSLI-Y Alumni Representative for Chapel Hill, NC in the Southeast region. Traveling to Chengdu, China in 2018 through NSLI-Y, I was overcome with gratitude for the experiences I was granted through this opportunity and the desire to reciprocate this generosity.

Annually, around eighteen NSLI-Y Alumni Representatives from across the nation come to Washington D.C. to participate in a workshop with the NSLI-Y Administration Team at American Councils. As a 2020 NSLI-Y Alumni Representative, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to participate in this year’s Alumni Representative workshop with my fellow representatives.

Who are NSLI-Y Alumni Representatives and what is their role? NSLI-Y Alumni Representatives are volunteers who organize events to promote continued language and cultural learning, professional development, networking, and community service for alumni and the study abroad and surrounding communities. If you are an alum, join the NSLI-Y Alumni Association to engage with your Regional Representative and learn more about events in your area. We would love to meet you and help begin or further your NSLI-Y experience!

Here is my recap of the Alumni Workshop’s events.

Day 1:

After arriving at Reagan National Airport and traveling to the hotel, we headed to American Councils’ Headquarters, passing the Tajikistan Embassy along the way. As with many events, we started off with an icebreaker. Pairs of Representatives came up with a verb in their host country language and then acted out the verb; it was charades with a slight twist. Meenu, a Virtual Representative, and I partnered up; after ruminating for a moment, we decided upon Meenu’s word, “to smoke” in Arabic, because of its linguistic beauty. With our Academy-Award-winning acting skills, we acted out “to smoke.” Other verbs acted out included “to close” in Russian, “to do mischief” in Hindi, “to blow” in Chinese, and “to kiss” in Tajik.

After dinner, we participated in a tricky Kahoot quiz about NSLI-Y to determine how much we know about the program; it was a rather enlightening experience. The big takeaway is that NSLI-Y, allowing high school students to travel to countries where one of eight critical languages is spoken for intensive language-learning, began in 2006 and is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The NSLI-Y quiz champions were Elaine, Chicago, IL area representative, Will, Virtual Representative, and the big winner, Amy, Twin Cities, MN area representative. After a bit more information from the NSLI-Y Administration team, we headed back to the hotel. Crazy enough, I met three Peace Corps returnees in one day; all are employees at American Councils.

Day 2:

Arriving early to American Councils, we did another icebreaker activity where we lined up in two lines face-to-face and answered a few questions, one of which asked for the meaning of citizen diplomacy, a key purpose of NSLI-Y. Citizen diplomacy is the act of individuals serving as representatives of their country in locations outside their country. One way through which this occurs is through international exchange programs, such as NSLI-Y. In your host country, you represent America; you simultaneously develop an understanding of others while promoting an understanding of Americans, American culture, and your own unique background and experiences.

As I briefly mentioned before, one of the key responsibilities of NSLI-Y Alumni Representatives is to organize events to further the NSLI-Y mission. At the workshop, three returning Representatives shared events they had organized in the past, all events within the key event type categories: learn, grow, connect, and serve. Rayyan, representative for Florida in the Southeast Region, shared a connect event where alumni in his region met up at a local restaurant to network and talk about their NSLI-Y experiences. Marria, Bloomington, Indiana area representative, shared a grow event in which she invited Diplomat in Residence Louis Fintor to have a conversation with NSLI-Y alumni and students at Indiana University. Luke, for the representative for Pittsburgh, PA , shared a serve event in which he organized an NSLI-Y outreach presentation at a school in his area. Although he’s no longer a Representative, Dean, 2018 & 2019 representative for Philadelphia, PA, shared a learn event he organized two years in a row through Facebook: the NSLI-Y Language Challenge, offering alumni, finalists, and prospective applicants the opportunity to start/continue learning languages with support from others and the chance to win prizes and recognition. This may be organized again this year, so be on the lookout! Meenu also shared a few virtual events she organized, ranging from “2019 Arabic Summer Finalists’ Q&A” to “Career Paths after Study Abroad with Tyler Parker, CLS Alumnus” .

With event participation, there is also a wonderful thing known as social media take-overs. NSLI-Y staff told us about opportunities to take-over the NSLI-Y social media accounts, which you may have seen before if you follow NSLI-Y. If you come to an event, you could have the opportunity to be in an Instagram story or maybe even show up on the Facebook page! Additionally, as you probably know, NSLI-Y is not the only study abroad scholarship funded by the U.S. State Department. There are many other opportunities for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as professors and other professionals, to study abroad to intensively learn critical languages, engage in cultural exchanges, conduct research, etc. One opportunity for undergraduates that is similar to NSLI-Y is the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) . At our workshop, Tucker Boyce, CLS Alumni Society President, told us about CLS, their association, and opportunities to organize events with them and come to their events. If you didn’t get the chance to apply to NSLI-Y and you’re an undergrad, CLS is a great opportunity, and there are even more languages offered through CLS.

If you are into STEM, NSLI-Y, studying abroad in general, is for you too! As a matter of fact, for a team-bonding and leadership activity, we did a little ‘STEM’ ourselves by building towers with marshmallows and dry spaghetti , which is actually rather difficult. Regarding STEM, although many NSLI-Y recipients are interested in foreign service and international relations, many are interested in mathematics, medicine, computer science, etc. Personally, I applied to NSLI-Y with an interest in science and aim to pursue neuroscience, global public health, and Chinese as an undergrad as a means of pursuing a career in pediatric neurology. A few other NSLI-Y Alumni Representatives are interested in STEM fields as well; applicants from all backgrounds and with all interests are welcome and encouraged to apply to NSLI-Y.

The day ended with a photo of all eighteen of us. After a short break, we headed to Georgetown for dinner at and a meander around the streets, including a visit to Georgetown Cupcakes, Georgetown University, and Georgetown GLOW.

Day 3:

On the last day, we stayed at the hotel for the last few sessions on public speaking and practicing our NSLI-Y pitch. Throughout the morning and the afternoon, our numbers gradually lessened as representatives took planes and trains to their respective regions. Although spread out across the nation, we all are working with the same goals in mind and may even collaborate to host events. Ultimately, we’re here to help alumni continue their NSLI-Y journey through language and cultural learning, professional development, networking, and community service, as well as support applicants and the surrounding communities within our regions. To connect with your Representative, email [email protected]. We can’t wait to meet and support you!