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“We live in such a global world nowadays that knowing even a
little bit of another language or two languages is something that can
really open doors for people career wise,” Kiara Cronin said. The 2022
Honors graduate studied Swahili in the Critical Language Scholarship
In just eight
weeks, University of Delaware alumna Kiara Cronin went from not speaking
any Swahili at all to testing at an intermediate proficiency level — a
feat anyone who’s ever attempted to learn a new language would deem
Cronin graduated in May 2022 with an Honors bachelor of arts degree
in history and international relations with a concentration in
diplomacy. During the summer, she then participated in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program,
an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion group-based
program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and
universities. Students spend eight to 10 weeks abroad studying one of 14
critical languages, and the program includes intensive language
instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to
promote rapid language gains.
Although typically in Tanzania, the Swahili program was moved to a
virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cronin still found it
to be a fully immersive experience. The mornings were reserved for
freeform practice and learning activities, such as speaking with her
language partner, and the afternoons consisted of three hours of
classes. After just the first week, those activities took place entirely
“I still consider the experience I had immersive because it was six
to seven hours a day of full-on only Swahili,” Cronin said. “So even
though I was speaking English at home, definitely in class I was
practicing in a way that I wouldn't have been able to if I was just
doing like one class a week or trying to teach it to myself online. It
was a really good balance of classroom learning and application
learning, and I think that's why the program works as well as it does.”
CLS, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding
provided by the U.S. government and administered by American Councils
for International Education, is open to students with diverse interests
and from a wide range of fields of study and career paths. The program
is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of
Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical
to national security and economic prosperity. Most of the languages do
not require any previous study in those languages and are not typically
taught at American universities. Languages in the program include
Azerbaijani, Bangla, Hindi, Indonesian, Persian, Portuguese, Swahili,
Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Korean, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.
“For students who are interested in language learning, in working in
international relations, public service, the Foreign Service — anything
that might require critical language knowledge — this will be a great
way for them to get an intensive language study in a short period of
time and have it not interfere with any of their coursework,” said
Kristin Bennighoff, senior associate director for the Honors College and
UD’s institutional representative to CLS. “This is a way for students,
especially those who might want to work in international affairs in the
future or national security, to get exposure and learn those languages
and hopefully be able to start a plan of study to keep going with
UD, which is celebrating 100 years of study abroad this year, offers
more than 100 programs in about 40 countries — and external programs
such as CLS, the Boren Awards and the Gilman Scholarship
expand on those offerings and can make study abroad opportunities more
accessible to more students, both financially and logistically. Each
year, about 200 to 250 students find a study abroad opportunity that is
beyond what the university offers, and the Center for Global Programs
and Services can help students find a program that is the right fit for
“A lot of the CLS programs are languages that we don't offer or have a
full program for, so students can leverage the scholarship to add to
what their academic program is here at UD,” said Matthew Drexler, UD’s
associate director for Study Abroad.
Swahili, for example, is not a language offered at UD, but Cronin was
able to use the skills learned at UD to get the most out of the
program. She took French as an undergraduate and discovered that she
learns best using flashcards and the drilling method to learn new
vocabulary — skills she applied to learning Swahili. Her experience at
UD also helped to broaden her global outlook, she said.
“I decided to go to UD because it was actually one of the few schools
that I applied to that had a dedicated international relations major,”
she said. “A lot of schools have a political science major and then you
can concentrate in global affairs, but UD’s program really is more of an
international focus, and I knew that was what I wanted in a college.”
There are myriad benefits to studying abroad, Drexler said, whether
it’s a semester-long program, a shorter program during Winter or Summer
Session, or an independent experience like CLS.
“We know that folks who study abroad are higher earners in their
careers, that they have really high success rates in getting their first
job after college, so we see the practical outputs with that experience
— you can count on success after graduation,” Drexler said. “Cross
cultural communication skills, cross cultural competencies, tolerance
for ambiguity, openness to diversity, and a sense of urgency and self
efficacy all increase on study abroad, and those are all skills and
traits that serve you well in your life and career.”
Cronin said she hopes to work for the U.S. Department of State or a
similar non-governmental organization, making use of her new language
“We live in such a global world nowadays that knowing even a little
bit of another language or two languages is something that can really
open doors for people career wise,” she said. “I want to be in a role
where I can make an impact and do things that I think are leaving the
world a better place. I really think it's important to do things that
feed your soul and do things that help other people.”
Cronin hopes to travel to Tanzania in the near future; in the
meantime, she’s keeping her language skills sharp using the Duolingo
“CLS really gave me appreciation for how difficult it is to learn new
languages and be immersed in another culture for a certain amount of
time every day,” she said. “Even when you do an intensive program,
you're really only skimming the surface, and it really made me realize
how much there is to explore out there and how much there is to do. So
that kind of lit the fire in me to keep going out and keep exploring and
doing these kinds of cultural immersion experiences that I know I want
to spend the rest of my career doing.”
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Article by Amy Wolf, photo courtesy of Kiara Cronin, illustration by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published March 21, 2023