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Emma Thompson '16, a religion major from Denver, Colorado, has been awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study the Bangla language, also commonly referred to as Bengali, in Kolkata, India, this summer.

"The CLS opportunity is a crucial link in her development as a scholar," said Director of Fellowships and Grants Keith Raether. "Language skills, obviously, are essential to any work in religious studies. They're especially important to Emma's research of interfaith communities in South Asia."

Administered by American Councils for International Education, the Critical Language Scholarship Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. This year, 5,750 applications were submittedthe highest number on recordwith around 560 undergraduate and graduate students from about 200 institutions of higher learning selected to receive the scholarship.

Recipients will spend eight to 10 weeks in one of 24 locations worldwide studying Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu. In the past decade, more than 5,000 U.S. students have traveled overseas for this intensive language instruction and cultural enrichment opportunity.

According to application guidelines, participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the terms of the scholarship, and to apply their critical language skills in their future careers. The CLS Program actively recruits students from states and regions of the country that have been historically underrepresented in international education, and encourages students from diverse backgrounds and academic majors to apply.

Emma Thompson

Thompson, a member of Whitman's award-winning Ethics Bowl team, has already completed a semester-long independent research project examining the religious stories that guide the Mothers' Front social justice group in Sri Lanka.

"There's a long history of syncretic religious traditions in the region," Raether said. "The CLS immersion will give Emma the requisite language foundation to understand how religious difference is successfully navigated by diverse populations."

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors more than 50,000 individuals annually through various academic and professional exchange programs dedicated to building relations and respect between nations.