Altamont School senior Savitri Sasse studied Arabic for seven weeks in Jordan this summer after earning a prestigious National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI‑Y) scholarship.
The program, launched in 2006 by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is part of a multi-agency government initiative to increase the number of young Americans with the language skills necessary to advance international dialogue, promote economic prosperity and innovation worldwide, and contribute to national security by building understanding across cultures.
Sasse competed with thousands of applicants from high schools across the United States, and was one of approximately 400 students to earn the honor. “The application and interview processes were rigorous,” said Cameron Gaede, Altamont’s Director of College Counseling, who guided Sasse through the process along with Associate Director of College Counseling Julie Beckwith and French teacher Peter Rosborough. “Savitri worked her way through them systematically, carefully, and with enthusiasm,” Gaede said.
Sasse is an experienced student of French at The Altamont School, and studied in France last year. She took up the challenge of learning Arabic, with its very different alphabet and right-to-left orientation, because she recognized its importance in the world and wanted to broaden her linguistic and cultural horizons. “I think it was important for me to experience the Middle East, but also to learn Arabic,” she said.
With no experience of Arabic apart from a brief preparation program, Sasse was truly immersed in the language in Jordan. Her host family did not speak English, and the formal education was intense—five days per week at Qasid Institute with 20 other students. Weekend exploration of Jordan included an overnight stay at Wadi Rum, one of Sasse’s favorite experiences of the country.
Many NSLI-Y alumni go on to pursue education and careers vital to U.S. national security, and credit the program experience with helping them improve their academic, leadership and cross-cultural communication skills. For now, Sasse simply hopes to continue studying Arabic and possibly even return to Jordan some day for more advanced study. Starting a new school year at Altamont this fall, she recommended the deeply immersive approach to language in general, and the NSLI-Y program in particular.“It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” she said.
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