Baruch Students Earn Critical Language Scholarships from U.S. Department of State
July 22, 2021
Three Baruch College students—a record number for the institution—were selected among 700 students nationwide to receive U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarships (CLS) and are learning Arabic, Chinese, and Swahili this summer, which will help them achieve their professional and personal goals.
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. The program lasts eight to 10 weeks where CLS scholars gain critical language and cultural skills that enable them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.
Baruch College’s Award-Winning Students
Michael Cala: Learning Chinese to Strengthen U.S.-International Relations
Michael Cala (’22) is a Masters of International Affairs graduate student at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs with a concentration in trade policy and global economic governance.
Cala is using this award to further his studies in Chinese, which he started studying as an elective course in middle school. More than a decade later, he currently is teaching Chinese full-time at a New York high school and is interning for U.S. diplomats at the Beijing Embassy.
“I think the most important thing for me about learning Chinese is that there are 1.3 billion Chinese people in the world, and as an English speaking American, it feels good to be able to say that I can potentially chat with that many people in their mother language,” Cala said.
In the short-term, Cala hopes the CLS program can help him become truly fluent in Mandarin Chinese. As for his long-term goals, Cala is seeking a federal employment job for the Department of State, FBI, or any either field to utilize foreign language skills and experiences to strengthen U.S.-international relations.
Cala was motivated through the application process by a quote from the late comedian Chris Farley: “You enter strong and you exit strong and you are going to be okay.”
“To me, it is all about how you apply yourself early on in your career and really in life to as many things as you want to,” Cala explained. “The middle phase will be fuzzy at times, but once the end comes, there should be something you have done to be able to say it was or was not worth it. I think this advice can go to many of my fellow undergraduates and graduate students who have had a hard time trying to figure out what they want to accomplish for their careers.”
Annmarie Gajdos: Future Human Rights Lawyer Hoping to ‘Build Trust with African Migrants’
Gajdos (’20) won a Critical Language Scholarship for the second straight year, as the State Department allowed her to apply again despite not being a full-time student because the program did not occur in 2020.
“As a 2020 recipient of the Critical Language Award for Swahili, I was disappointed when the program was cancelled last year due to Covid-19,” said Gajdos, who majored in computer information systems at the Zicklin School of Business with a concentration in management of musical enterprises and double minors in NYC studies and business law. “However, I am thrilled to now learn Swahili with talented students from across the country while also connecting with acclaimed staff in Tanzania.”
Coming from a Slovak-American household, the importance of language and cultural diversity was instilled in Gajdos from a young age. While volunteering abroad in college, she learned numerous languages such as Slovak, Spanish, Latin, and Italian.
Gajdos, who was Baruch College’s Class of 2020 valedictorian and a Macaulay Honors College Kenan scholar, chose to study Swahili because African culture is rich with history. By learning Swahili, Gajdos is hoping to build trust between herself and the African migrants that she will represent as an international human rights lawyer.
“There is no better way to do so than through language,” Gajdos added. “People are often distrustful of those who belong to different cultures from that of their own. But these concerns melt away when one feels understood, rather than judged. Learning a language like Swahili is an important way to build relationships despite cultural differences.”
Makinoon Sami: Seeking to Gain Knowledge About the Arabic Language
Sami (’21), who majored in statistics and quantitative modeling at the Zicklin School of Business and minored in interdisciplinary studies, was accepted into the CLS program’s Moroccan cohort.
He was interested in applying for this award because CLS has many partnerships abroad, especially in Arabic, which was his targeted language.
“I want to make friends and build connections through this program by speaking and understanding the Arabic language as a non-Arab Muslim and young American professional,” Sami said.
Growing up as a Bengali-Muslim, Sami had an indirect connection to the Arabic language and Arab culture. Since childhood, he has been reading the holy Quran—written in Arabic—but did not understand what he was reciting.
“When I found the opportunity to study beginner’s Arabic as an elective at Baruch College, I immediately signed up,” Sami added. “In this class, I learned about different dialects of the Arabic language and the countries that use it and wanted to further my study through the CLS program.”
Sami is looking to build professional connections with the professors teaching this program and CLS alumni as he works towards a career goal in U.S. foreign policy consulting.
“I intend to practice the skills acquired through the CLS virtual classroom to my travel experiences in the Middle East and North Africa,” Sami said. “Although the program is virtual this year, I am focused on the learning outcome.”
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