Claire Humphreys, a senior psychology major from Atlanta, has a tattoo on her wrist of a world map, illustrating her love to travel, and an opportunity to study abroad will allow her to pursue that passion.
Humphreys is Troy’s first-ever recipient of the United States State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), giving her the opportunity to study Korean in Gyeongju, South Korea.
“It’s a pretty good honor for not only myself, but also Troy,” Humphreys said.
This is not her first time being away from the United States. She has worked for nonprofit organizations and taught English in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand and Cambodia.
Only 500 out of 5,500 applicants received the scholarship in which the United States pays for students to learn a language to prepare them for a global workforce and national competitiveness, offering 14 languages they feel are essential for U.S. citizens to know and learn about.
She had to visit a doctor to update vaccinations and has to bring her own pocket money, but the U.S. will pay for food, provide a stipend to live on and cover transportation costs.
“It’s an intensive language school for eight weeks, and you’re in classes five hours every day for eight weeks,” she said. “The rest of the time is cultural immersion, so you’re learning language within the classroom but also immersed in the culture and learning about the cultural influences on a language.”
The scholarship required essays speaking about various aspects of intent, such as what the student hopes to get from the program and how the student will continue using their language after the program, along with a regular application and personal statement. One essay topic was regarding how the student will adjust to the new culture.
“Learning a new language anywhere is difficult, and then you’re learning it immersed into a culture,” Humphreys said. “It puts a different level of challenge to it.
“When you go into a different country, you can get culture shock, and trying to learn a new language — it can be very overwhelming for some people.”
Humphreys said she believes her experience living abroad prepared her for the prospect of studying in another country.
“From my experience learning Cambodian language, I was immersed in the culture, and I didn’t take very many classes,” she said. “I was fully immersed, and I was able to pick it up very quickly because you’re dependent for your survival to know the language and interact, and I think that’s what they’re trying to reproduce, that dependence on you needing it to survive.”
The program employs a combination of language and culture to teach students.
“Language is an integral part of any culture, so you’re learning the language, and you’re obviously learning the culture.”
Her experience will also include excursions to historic and cultural Korean sites such as temples and monuments.
With the CLS program, Humphreys will live with a Korean family and be fully immersed in another culture again. In the program, students are not allowed to use English, and they are encouraged nto to use English at home.
“It really helps your language learning,” Humphreys said. “There’s something in your brain that’s triggered that’s like, ‘Yes, I’ve got to learn this!’ I have to know it, because I can’t communicate any other way.
“It pushes you in a different degree than you would in a normal classroom, when outside the classroom you can speak your native language.”
Humphreys said she has taken Korean classes including Korean 1101 and 1102 and worked with conversation partners.
“By the end of it, I hope to be a lot more proficient in it,” she said. “You practice the language, you’re going to move up in the level.
“There’s a good chance that I’ll come home and be speaking a lot more Korean than I have now.”
Despite not having taken a Korean class since her sophomore year, she employs other ways to prepare and refresh her Korean skills.
“It’s little bits of exposure along the way,” she said. “I listen to Korean music, I watch Korean TV shows.
“Continuing that exposure is preparing me to go.”
She said she also reads articles in Korean and follows “Word of the Day” accounts on social media.
Younghee Choi Kent, an adjunct instructor of modern languages and classics, told her about the scholarship and encouraged her to apply.
“It is gratifying for me to see a Troy University student recognized among the best of the best,” Kent said. “It demonstrates again that Troy students are leaders.”
Kent said that most students chosen for the program are from Ivy League and high-profile colleges like UC Berkeley and Stanford, with only 10 percent of students being chosen for the award.
She supported Humphreys by guiding her through the application process, writing her a recommendation letter and telling her to expose herself to the culture as much as possible.
“Knowing that it is going to be an extensive level of study — and I’m very dedicated on my studies — I’ve been meeting with my Korean teacher,” Humphreys said. “I’m a very big perfectionist.
“She said: ‘No, no, get good grades, but also enjoy the time that you’re there. Obviously be diligent in your studies, but don’t be consumed by your studies.’”
Humphreys also offered advice for students considering applying for scholarships.
“Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get something because there’s always more opportunities,” she said. “There’s no harm in trying.
“Don’t already sell yourself short. Just do it and see what comes of it.”
She also stressed the importance of powering through intimidating amounts of work.
“Even if it’s difficult and it’s long sometimes, the reward in the end is a lot bigger than the time you invested in it,” she said. “Just know that it might take a little effort at first, but you get more back in the end.
“Just be diligent.”