UIC graduate student awarded State Department Critical Language Scholarship

A University of Illinois Chicago graduate student was granted a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship to study intensive Russian in Tbilisi, Georgia, this summer.

Kendal McGinnis, UIC graduate student.
Kendal McGinnis

Kendal McGinnis, who is a second-year Master of Arts student in creative writing, has been in the Georgian capital since the middle of June and is expected to be in the South Caucasus until the middle of August.

McGinnis, who is originally from Southern California, was one of 500 students selected from U.S. colleges and universities and is the only UIC student to be chosen this summer.

The program provides opportunities to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to spend eight to 10 weeks studying one of 14 critical languages, including Russian. The recipients of the award come from more than 200 learning institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Via email from Tbilisi, McGinnis said the scholarship program has been invaluable because it has allowed her to live with a host family and rethink her ideas of comfort as well as to learn the Russian language, which is commonly spoken in Georgia, which was once part of the former Soviet Union.

“It’s an opportunity to meet new, curious, young individuals who are passionate people, not only about geopolitics but also life in general,” McGinnis said. “I’m interested in talking to new people and learning new things, and in this way, this award is helping me achieve my goal.”

During the 2021-22 school year, McGinnis studied in Germany with the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of State and Germany. She taught German at UIC this past year. While she studied Russian as an undergraduate at Colorado College, she decided to pick it up again.

“I am coming back to it [Russian] mostly because of the war of aggression and the influx of Ukrainian refugees I saw in Germany at the start of the war,” McGinnis said.

When she was in Germany, she learned firsthand how interconnected the world was and the importance of the United States’ role in World War II, post-war Germany and, later, the reunification of Germany.

McGinnis said that in Georgia, most people over the age of 40 speak Russian, which they learned when the country was part of the Soviet bloc. In addition, she is taking Georgian classes alongside Russian courses at the university.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States has warned Americans not to travel to Russia. “With the influx of Russian emigres in Georgia because of the war, due to ideological or economic reasons, there are plenty of ways to practice Russian here,” McGinnis said.

Next year, McGinnis will be headed to Austria with an English teaching position administered by the Fulbright Austria Foundation. She will be teaching at a ski boarding school in Stams, Tirol.

She thanked Benn Williams, fellowships and awards coordinator in UIC’s Graduate College, for his assistance in the application process for the Critical Language Scholarship as well as Karina Duncker-Hoffmann in the Germanic studies department for assisting her application to next year’s program in Austria.

UIC’s Office of Undergraduate Research and External Fellowships provides advising and assistance to current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants. The Graduate College performs a similar function for graduate and professional students.

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