State Dept scholarships send students to learn language, culture

Neharika Akkoor

Neharika Akkoor will study in India.

Two UIC students will spend the summer in India and Oman in intensive foreign language studies supported by the U.S. State Department’s Critical Languages Scholarship.

The competitive award will place Neharika Akkoor and Bridget Hansen in fully funded 10-week language programs with cultural enrichment experiences.

Akkoor, a junior in the Honors College majoring in philosophy, will study beginning Hindi at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur, India.

She believes Hindi will be useful in the career she plans as a physician and a volunteer in India.

“It will be easier communicating with them, especially the elderly, who feel more comfortable communicating in their native language,” said Akkoor, who is already fluent in two South Indian languages.

Akkoor will seek international grants for study abroad after she completes her bachelor’s degree in May 2015. Under UIC’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions in medicine, she will later return to UIC for medical school.

She’s already had volunteer experience through Alternative Spring Break, a student-led service program that sends UIC students to sites across the country on winter and spring breaks.

Bridget Hansen

Bridget Hansen will spend her summer in Oman. Photo: Renee Ronzone

Becoming a physician is “a combination of science and service,” she said. “I don’t think any other career really combines the two of those as much as medicine does.”

Hansen, an Honors College junior majoring in anthropology and history, will study advanced beginning Arabic in Nizwa, Oman, through a program administered by AMIDEAST, an American nonprofit educational training and development organization.

Hansen said she enjoys learning challenging languages and unfamiliar subjects.

Since transferring to UIC in spring 2013, she has studied Arabic and the art and archaeology of the ancient Near East, in addition to research conducted at UIC on a Hittite archaeological site in north central Turkey.

“All anthropologists are originally fascinated by the concept of the ‘other’ — people and cultures who are drastically different — but are ultimately driven by a deep sense of love and an innate need for knowledge and understanding,” she said.

“I believe that anthropology is the best way in which we can understand others, and the Arab world in particular is very misunderstood in American society.”

Before graduate studies and a career in anthropology, Hansen plans to seek post-graduate opportunities with the Peace Corps and Fulbright scholar program.

“Our consumer and entrepreneurial culture stresses individualism and competition, but I’ve always felt it was important to be connected to people,” Hansen said.

“Without deep connection and love, we will not survive as a species, and this starts by helping others and being compassionate.”

Hansen was recently awarded an Honors College tuition waiver and the department of anthropology’s Nasrin Mahani Scholarship. She is also a University Student Ambassador.

The scholarships are part of the National Security Language Initiative to increase the number of Americans mastering critical-need languages. Recipients are expected to continue language studies beyond the scholarship and use their language skills in their professional careers.