Adenike headshot

Adenike, Chinese (Mandarin)

Adenike, an alumna of the 2016 NSLI-Y Chinese (Mandarin) Summer program, has a Bachelor's degree in Chinese and Psychology. She also received a Fulbright Teaching Assistant award to Taiwan.

Adenike's dedication to Mandarin study began in elementary school when she first took an introductory Mandarin course in third grade. Drawn to the beauty of the language and to its contrasts from the other languages she had studied, Adenike continued her Mandarin study for nearly fifteen years, culminating in receiving a NSLI-Y scholarship for summer study in Xi’an, China in 2016, a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese and Psychology, and most recently, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award to Taiwan. Adenike’s experiences have led her to prioritize opportunities to work with people from around the world and to learn from other experiences. ​

Adenike with her host sister in New York City

One of the greatest lasting impacts of Adenike’s NSLI-Y experience was the relationships that she made, especially with her host family. Nearly seven years after returning to the United States, Adenike remains in contact with her host sister, and even had the opportunity to show her around the United States in 2019! She introduced her host sister to New York City, was able to meet some of her relatives, and introduced her host sister and her host sister’s relatives to her own family. Having this type of cross-cultural experience was something that she had talked about with her host family while she was on program, and Adenike was thrilled that it was able to come to fruition. Other favorite memories from her NSLI-Y program include the program excursions, especially the trip to the Terracotta Warriors, noting “I remember how incredible it was to stand at the entrance of the museum and see the many rows of warriors, horses, and chariots. I also remember being surprised by how tall each of the sculptures were and amazed by the details of the various figures. It was truly an amazing experience and quite the site to behold.”​

Adenike teaching in Taiwan

Adenike has used many of the linguistic and personal skills she honed during NSLI-Y after moving to Taiwan for her Fulbright grant. NSLI-Y helped Adenike become comfortable with living in new countries and being outside of her comfort zone for long periods of time, skills she notes that she relied on heavily while adjusting to a new environment for her Fulbright grant. She uses her Mandarin skills daily to connect with others, including her students at school, and for everyday interactions. ​

For NSLI-Y alumni interested in pursuing other scholarships or fellowships such as Fulbright, Adenike encourages applying (and being open to re-applying!), even if you aren’t sure that you’ll receive it. She also recommends getting in contact with current recipients or alumni of the scholarships or programs that you are interested in, as they can provide valuable context on the program experience and advice for interested applicants. ​

Alejandra outside her NSLI-Y host school

Alejandra, Arabic

Alejandra, an alumna of the 2012 NSLI-Y Arabic Summer program in Morocco, has a Bachelor's degree in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. She continued her Arabic studies through the Critical Language Scholarship and CASA Fellowship.

Alejandra’s dedication to Arabic study has also lasted more than a decade and has led her across the world and into a variety of professional fields. Alejandra first became interested in Arabic in middle school due to the unique script and began her study of the language in high school, which in turn led her to apply to NSLI-Y. She participated in the 2012 NSLI-Y Summer program in Morocco and returned to the region to continue her Arabic study through the Critical Language Scholarship in Jordan in 2015. Upon completion of her Bachelor’s degrees in Modern Middle​ Eastern Studies and Mathematics/Philosophy, Alejandra was awarded a CASA Fellowship through Harvard University to spend a year polishing her Arabic skills in Cairo.

Currently living in London and working in climate change policy, Alejandra continues to participate in Arabic courses and speak with native Arabic speakers to maintain her strong language skills. Her Arabic skills have come in handy on a frequent basis – while attending COP27 in Egypt in 2022, she was able to translate for others in the UN pavilion who were struggling to communicate, thanks to her experience with Egyptian Arabic gained through the CASA Fellowship. Alejandra has also presented in Arabic at the American University in Cairo and is a published author in the Journal of Arabic Literature. She also notes how NSLI-Y’s emphasis on intercultural understanding has helped her feel more comfortable navigating new environments. As her world view continues to expand and her inhibitions recede, Alejandra feels comfortable navigating unfamiliar cultural contexts, whether in the United States or abroad.​

Such long-term dedication to a language can be difficult to maintain, especially when learners feel like they’re hitting a roadblock or plateau in their progress. In times like these, Alejandra recommends re-focusing on your purpose for learning the language, noting that “You don't need to speak perfectly: you just need to learn enough to achieve your purpose. Maybe you want to be an Arabic teacher? Maybe you just want to read the news in another language? Your goals should shape what you want to learn, and they can center you when you feel stuck.” ​

Alejandra’s NSLI-Y experience influenced her academic and professional trajectory in many ways. She has combined her interests in languages and history with her love of quantitative methods through a career in climate change policy. This fall, she will be entering a PhD program in Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Alejandra encourages those interested in climate change policy to prioritize their language skills as well as their policy and science understandings, noting that, “Climate change is a global issue and addressing it requires international efforts. A lot of negotiations happen exclusively in English … but a lot of advocacy and information happens in critical languages. Start by familiarizing yourself with key vocabulary and then you'll be able to participate in and follow along with key conversations. Push yourself, even if your language skills aren't perfect.”​