BANGOR, Maine — The only foreign country Liza Fowler ever has stepped foot in is Canada. Isaac Arabadjis, on the other hand, has made several trips to Europe and went to China last year.
Both will spend six weeks in July and August immersing themselves in the Chinese language and culture. Fowler, 17, of Osborne and Arabadjis, 16, of Orono are two of 20 Maine students who were awarded scholarships by the U.S. State Department to participate in the program that will pay nearly all of their expenses.
An orientation for participants and their families was held Saturday at Husson University.
The National Security Language Initiative for Youth, or NSLI-Y, is administered through the Chinese Language & Culture Center of Maine in Bangor and endorsed by the American Council for International Education.
“NSLI-Y differs from any exchange programs in that its primary focus is language acquisition,” Craig H. Brown, chief of the Youth Programs Division in the Office of Citizen Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said in a letter to students in the Maine group dated June 7. “It is the first U.S. Department of State program to provide scholarships for high school-age Americans to study language while living and engaging with people in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian [Tajik], Russian and Turkish-speaking countries.”
Those are languages that traditionally have not been taught in the U.S.
“NSLI -Y is part of a broader government-wide presidential initiative that prepares American citizens to be leaders in a global world,” according to information on its website, www.nsliforyouth.org. “Now more than ever, it is important that Americans have the necessary linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to promote international dialogues, support American engagement abroad, and attain better understanding of global cultures and issues.”
Fowler, who will be a senior at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor this fall, said she has taken Chinese for four years but is looking forward to being able to speak it in a home setting with her host family. Program participants will live with local residents in Harbin, China, in the north, while attending Harbin Number 1 High School.
Students also will visit Southwest Forestry University in Kunming along with the cities of Xi’an in the north and Guangzhou in the south. In addition, they will spend some time in the capital, Beijing.
“It seemed like it would be a fun adventure,” Fowler said when asked why she applied to the program. “I’m really looking forward to being in a completely different environment and experiencing things I’ve never experienced before.”
She said that after Saturday’s orientation she was less nervous and more excited about the trip.
“I’ve been worried I might accidentally insult someone,” Fowler said. “The advice about being just polite and respectful is helpful.”
Arabadjis, who will be a junior at Orono High School in the fall, said he is looking forward to visiting southern China, especially Xi’an, a walled city with a bike path atop the ancient structure.
“I think traveling so far from home makes you more open to other people and their cultures,” he said. “It also enables you to promote multiculturalism wherever you are.”