Critical Language Scholarship: 2024 Finalists Share Their CLS Aspirations and Advice for Future Applicants

The Critical Language Scholarship is an opportunity for university students from the United States to interact with new languages and cultures to promote intercultural and global engagement, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Every summer, students take part in an immersive eight-to-ten week program at intensive CLS study abroad institutes. Students have the option to apply to learn and practice one of thirteen different languages that are vital to U.S. political interests. Of these thirteen, six are represented in Wesleyan’s 2024 CLS cohort. 

Our finalists wanted to share some advice for students who want to apply in the coming years. When applying for the scholarship, Lyla Normand wants future applicants to know that the CLS places value in how you will use the experiences you earned in the program throughout your life: “Make sure you let the program reviewers know you’re on the same side in your application essays! Emphasize how you will carry on the CLS mission after the program ends.”

One of our students wanted to emphasize how living abroad can be a learning experience for students who are learning to navigate a new culture alongside practicing their language: “Having studied abroad before, I found that being vulnerable with my lack of knowledge in a new cultural context was more reassuring than avoidance.” 

The following students have been selected as finalists for the CLS and have the chance to attend language programs around the world: 

Henry Leighton

Language: Chinese

Henry Leighton is a Science in Society major and Global Engagement minor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s in his Junior year at Wesleyan University, and is interested in attending graduate school for Physical Therapy. He hopes to apply his language skills in Mandarin and Spanish to help increase accessibility in the United States healthcare system. This is his second time applying to the CLS program; he first started learning Mandarin through the virtual CLS Spark opportunity last summer. While abroad in Cuba last semester, he continued his studies with the help of Professor Yrmina Eng at the University of Havana, who researches Chinese-Cuban culture and history through an anthropological lens. He is involved on Long Lane farm, and is helping teach Spanish to fourth graders at the Laurence School in Middletown this semester. 

Sophie Raiskin-Wood

Language: Portuguese

Sophie Raiskin-Wood grew up in Eugene, Oregon and is now a junior at Wesleyan University, double-majoring in Art History and American Government. She is interested in the intersection between art and politics, and is excited to pursue a museum career after graduation. Last summer Sophie interned at the Smithsonian Institution as a Women’s History Initiative intern, and had the opportunity to write articles highlighting the under-recognized contributions of female artists in the Smithsonian collection. At Wesleyan, Sophie is the director of the Wesleyan Doula Project, a student-run collective which provides support to women receiving abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics across central Connecticut. In her free time, she also dances in the Precision contemporary dance group and works as a gallery attendant at the Pruzan Art Gallery. This coming summer Sophie will participate in the Critical Language Scholarship program to study Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro. She is looking forward to strengthening her language skills and learning more about Brazilian culture.

When asked what she was most excited about for her upcoming summer in Rio de Janeiro, Sophie said, “…I am most looking forward to being fully immersed in the language. I know it will be challenging but I am excited to see how my skills develop quickly. Not to mention, I’m also excited to try the Brigadeiros and practice Samba!”

Lyla Normand

Language: Japanese

Lyla is a junior majoring in East Asian Studies and Minoring in Global Engagement. A student of Japanese, she is currently studying abroad in Kyoto for the Spring 2024 semester where she is enjoying the Sakura and learning about Japanese language and culture. A Third Culture Kid, her mother is from Karachi and her father New York but she spent most of her childhood in Bangkok where she attended a British International School until her family moved back to New York in 2018. Interested in translation, international affairs, linguistics, and art, she is hoping to pursue a career in translation or in a cultural institution.

Aniya Akhtar

Language: Urdu

Aniya Akhtar is a senior majoring in Government and minoring in Data Analysis and Global Engagement from Pittsburgh, PA. Throughout her time at Wesleyan she has been passionate about exploring issues relevant to the South Asian region through courses on national security, religious nationalism and conflict studies. On campus she is apart of the Shakti Board and helps plan events to engage campus with South Asian celebrations and community and also assists Government research through the Wesleyan Media Project. Outside of Wesleyan she has also assisted research on the Religion team at Pew Research Center and is excited to strengthen her Urdu abilities for future studies of South Asia! While Aniya has declined CLS in favor of a full-time job offer, she hopes to find a way to continue practicing Urdu in Washington, DC after starting her new job.

Eli Siegel-Bernstein

Language: Arabic

Eli Siegel-Bernstein ‘25 was awarded the Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic at the Noor Majan Training Institute in Nizwa, Oman. At Wesleyan, Eli is majoring in Science and Technology Studies with concentrations in Anthropology and Biology. Eli took a pre-college gap year working in agriculture and reproductive healthcare. Since then, he has been involved with the Wesleyan Doula Project and the Center for Prison Education and worked as a writing tutor for high school students. Currently spending his junior year abroad in Amman, Jordan and Rabat, Morocco, Eli volunteered as an English instructor and is conducting research on the role of secular education in Moroccan independence through the Mohammed V University Research Lab. Although he decided not to pursue CLS, Eli will be staying in the Arabic-speaking world this summer to intern at an arts and cultural organization in Tangier, Morocco.

Kat Basilio

Language: Indonesian

Kat Basilio ’27 will spend the summer at the CLS program in Malang, Indonesia. Being selected for the Critical Language Scholarship as a first-year student is an impressive achievement, particularly taking into consideration the application’s November deadline. She will be pursuing a language that isn’t a fixture of the Wesleyan curriculum, even though our campus has longterm ties to Indonesia, stretching back at least to the arrival of the gamelan on campus in the 1960s.