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  • Gabriella Ignacio

Studying Abroad: NSLI-Y

It was during the spring of my freshman year when, through the fateful chance of YouTube recommendations, I first heard about the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). The recommended video was a vlog by a girl in high school, who, through NSLI-Y, was able to study the language and culture of South Korea during the summer*. As someone who enjoys both travel and language learning, the idea of spending an entire summer abroad greatly appealed to me, and I eagerly watched as the student went about documenting her daily life. Upon finishing the video and ensuing further research, I discovered that NSLI-Y not only aligned with my interests of linguistics and cultural immersion, but was completely funded for by the government in the form of a scholarship (this post is not sponsored by the way). This deepened my determination to participate, and I set out to plan my application.

Then, of course, Covid-19 hit the United States.

Despite setbacks related to the virus, I was eventually able to apply for – and ultimately get into – the same program I admired in the video two years later. So, with only a couple of months before I leave for South Korea, I wanted to formally appreciate just how unique and beneficial the option of studying abroad really is.

To start, it must be acknowledged that studying abroad is a huge privilege in itself – after all, not everyone can give up their academic, extracurricular, and personal commitments so easily, and for many, the typically steep price of travel is simply not in budget. There are various factors that play into a student’s ability to study abroad, but overall, I highly recommend pursuing it if circumstances allow. As someone who has previously studied in Costa Rica, I can attest to the fact that it expands your worldview, creates lasting relationships, and can completely reshape you as a person. The everyday experiences with the local community is incomparable to anything found online or through a textbook, and if language-learning is your goal, there is no better option than to surround yourself with people that can teach you native colloquialisms and patterns of speech. Whenever or wherever you decide to go, you will inevitably come back changed for the better.

In addition to its overarching benefits, studying abroad can be especially useful for students that wish to grow closer to their native culture. I’ve noticed that this attitude is prevalent with Asian-American students in particular – when I asked my NSLI-Y cohort mates about their motivation for applying, for example, several of them mentioned that they wanted to learn more about their Korean heritage. Others from different language groups (namely Mandarin and Hindi) indicated similar interests, and alumni pertaining to this “heritage motivation” category verified that it was indeed effective in achieving this goal. Obviously, you do not have to share these incentives in order to qualify for these programs, but I thought it was interesting to note how much of a common theme it was throughout Asian-American applicants.

Whether it be in high school, college, or beyond, being a study abroad student pushes one’s limits in the best way possible. Though this post has not been inherently Asian-American centered, I believe that achieving an international mindset is essential for all people (Asian Americans included), and that learning abroad is one of the most powerful means of producing one. As my own departure date has gotten closer, I’ve become more and more eager to share my takes on study abroad, and hope my enthusiasm can reach readers of all demographics. After all, the only things you need to succeed overseas are curiosity, passion, and determination. And probably a passport.


If interested, here are a few study abroad programs to check out! Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX):

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y):

Youth Exchange Study (YES):

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