Elon students awarded Critical Language Scholarships by U.S. State Department

The Critical Language Scholarships will give Elon students Sarah Jane McDonald '21 and Holly Cardoza '23 the opportunity to study foreign languages deemed critical to U.S. diplomacy and outreach.

Two Elon University students have received awards through a federal scholarship program designed to further their study of foreign languages critical to U.S. diplomacy and outreach.

Sarah Jane McDonald ’21 and Holly Cardoza ’23 have been named recipients of the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). The scholarship program supports the study of 15 critical languages and provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to increase language fluency and cultural competency. Students typically spend eight to 10 weeks abroad through the program, although the majority of this summer’s CLS institutes will be offered as virtual programs due to the ongoing pandemic.

Sarah Jane McDonald ’21

The CLS Program plays an important role in preparing students for the global workforce and increasing national competitiveness. The scholarship supports the studies of students like McDonald, who will have the opportunity to study Swahili remotely through the MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Tanzania this summer.

McDonald is a religious studies and international and global studies (Africa concentration) double major from Fort Worth, Texas. A Multifaith Scholar and Leadership Fellow at Elon, McDonald is also a member of the Theta Alpha Kappa national honor society for religious studies and theology, an Omicron Delta Kappa Ella Brunk Smith Award recipient, and winner of the Anne Cassebaum Outstanding Student Award for Commitment to Social Justice and Activism.

McDonald is passionate about the study of refugee resettlement and has found a number of ways to immerse herself in the subject. She has journeyed to El Paso, Texas, four times to learn about the struggles of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and interned with a refugee resettlement organization in Iringa, Tanzania. McDonald also credits Assistant Professor of Geography Sandy Marshall and his course on global migration for helping her gain a better understanding of the hurdles facing migrants and what she can do to help them overcome those challenges.

Under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Anthropology Mussa Idris, the Elon senior researched the impact of religion on resettled East and Central African refugee integration in Greensboro, North Carolina. For her research, McDonald interviewed refugees to learn about their stories – specifically the role their church community has played in their post-resettlement.

McDonald is excited about the opportunities the CLS Program will provide, as she has the chance to advance her study of refugees and gain a deeper understanding of the Swahili language. She hopes to use the language to better connect with East African refugees in her work.

“I think as humanitarian workers, it is incredibly important to make an attempt to learn the language of the population you are working with, and I cannot wait to use Swahili with refugees in the future,” McDonald said. “I hope to use this scholarship to better understand the language, cultural contexts and experiences of East Africans.”

McDonald’s postgraduate plans include working with the outreach team at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, Maryland.

Holly Cardoza ’23

Holly Cardoza ’23 has been awarded the Critical Language Scholarship to support her remote study of Arabic at the Noor Majan Training Institute in Ibri, Oman.

Cardoza, a political science and international and global studies major from Hollis, New Hampshire, is an Elon College Fellow and member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. Cardoza currently serves as vice president of the Elon Delegation of the North Carolina Student Legislature and as secretary of Elon’s Arabic Language Organization.

Cardoza is researching the use of cybersecurity as a means of political force in international relations under the mentorship of Sean Giovanello, associate professor of political science and policy studies.

Cardoza was initially hesitant to apply to the CLS Program because she didn’t know whether she had the credentials to earn the award. She credits Shereen Elgamal, lecturer in Arabic in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, with giving her the confidence to submit the application. “Ustatha Shereen is an amazing professor, a wonderful mentor, and a great friend to all of her students. I couldn’t have done it without her help and support,” Cardoza said.

Cardoza hopes the CLS Program will help improve her Arabic skills as she plans to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, in spring 2022. She hopes the lessons in Arabic will also help her on her future career path. Although she will not have the opportunity to travel to Oman this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions, Cardoza is grateful for the opportunity to continue growing while pursuing her passion for language.

“Learning languages provides a means of communicating with people you might otherwise never have the ability or opportunity to communicate with,” Cardoza said. “The CLS Program will allow me to connect and engage with people of different languages and cultures in a time when it is difficult to connect with anyone at all. My personal goal for this summer is to improve as both a student and a global citizen.”

To learn more about the Critical Language Scholarship and other nationally competitive awards, visit the National and International Fellowships website where students and alumni can request an appointment.