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ODU Student Wins State Department Scholarship to Study Mandarin in Beijing this Summer

An Old Dominion University student, and former Navy translator, has been selected for a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Mandarin in Beijing, China, this summer.

Pamela Richey, 25, who is majoring in Asian studies at ODU, has always been fascinated with China. She's thrilled to have an opportunity to become immersed in the Chinese culture and lifestyle - even being matched up with a Chinese family as her hosts.

"Staying with a family is the best way to experience the culture," said Richey, who is originally from Utah. "You have to sign a pledge that you'll speak only the language when you're on the exchange, even when you aren't in class."

Richey hopes eventually to be an FBI linguist or a lawyer.

In 2010, 575 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students have been selected by the State Department to study Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian and Persian, along with Russian and Indian languages. The scholarship recipients were chosen from more than 5,000 applicants.

Students from all 50 states, from a range of academic disciplines, were chosen for the program.

The students will spend seven to 10 weeks in intensive language institutes in 15 countries where the languages are spoken. For students like Richey, however, the language training will continue with their host families.

"You should see the size of the form you have to fill out," Richey said. "They ask you everything: Whether you want the family to have children, pets, to how much interaction you want to have with them. And I have to write them a letter in Mandarin before we go."

Richey's two-month exchange overseas starts June 6, after a training session in Washington, D.C.

The scholarship recipients are also taking part in cultural activities to help with the immersion process. For Richey, it will mean trips to Beijing's significant attractions and the Great Wall of China. What she really wants to do, however, is go to a karaoke restaurant ("Food is free, as long as you're having drinks," she said.) and visit a traditional Chinese market and haggle for goods.

"They say Americans get ripped off all the time. I'd love to pretend that I don't know Mandarin, and then surprise the seller by speaking their language. It would be fun," Richey said.

While she's looking forward to hard work and a great time on her two-month foray to China, Richey knows the seriousness that underlies the work she'll do. She said there's a reason that languages like Chinese and Farsi are on the State Department's list for the CLS. She figures it could lead to work like she did in the Navy, "and I'm not allowed to talk about that. It's classified."

The State Department's CLS was launched in 2006 to increase opportunities for American students to study critical-need languages overseas, and is part of a wider U.S. government effort to dramatically expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical-need languages.

CLS program students are among the more than 40,000 academic and professional exchange program participants supported annually by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The CLS program is administered by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the American Councils for International Education.

For Richey, the experience is intensely personal, as well. Her father, David Ameeti, died a little over a month ago.

"He always wanted me to get an opportunity to go to China. I found out I was going a few days after he died," Richey said.

"He would have been very excited for me."

This article was posted on: April 15, 2010

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