Like many college seniors, Steven Yu weighed several options for what to do after graduation. He had majored in Environmental Studies and Chinese Studies at UR, and wanted one more educational experience before beginning his career. When Steven learned he could spend the summer after graduation honing his Mandarin Chinese skills through the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program, he decided to apply.

Steven was one of three UR students awarded a prestigious Critical Language Scholarship in 2019. The CLS is a fully-funded summer study abroad program for American students. It aims to expand the number of Americans studying languages that are not commonly taught in schools but that are essential for national security and economic prosperity. Steven spent his summer in Taiwan studying Mandarin Chinese.

The CLS offers a notoriously rigorous language immersion experience. Students apply to learn one of fifteen critical languages, including Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu. CLS participants often make impressive language gains in a relatively short period of time. Steven reports learning as many as 40+ Chinese characters each day, in addition to new grammatical concepts.

One of Steven’s favorite parts of the CLS program was getting to know the other participants. He enjoyed watching his peers learn to express their true personalities in Chinese over the course of the summer. Steven also enjoyed living with a host family, who helped immerse him in Taiwanese culture and took him on weekend excursions.

Steven reports that his Chinese language skills greatly improved during the CLS program. He now feels comfortable having advanced conversations on pressing global issues with native speakers. He highly recommends the CLS program to other UR students, especially other seniors who may benefit from learning a critical language before beginning graduate school or a new job.