“The key to everything is determination.”
In between pages of an Arabic textbook, this famous proverb may flit across the vision of its reader, inked in black and written in its root language. This reader is Addie Mae Villas, a sophomore accepted into an international program to study the foreign language.
Each year, the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program selects a small number of students via a lengthy application process to learn critical languages outside of the United States. Villas counts as one of 22 students accepted into the Arabic section of NSLI-Y, which will take place in Morocco this summer.
“I really want to go into International Affairs, and the Middle East is a really hot button subject right now,” Villas said. “I really want to learn [Arabic] because the culture is really fascinating, but also just to get an understanding between that culture and our culture. I think learning a language is the best way to do that.”
The NSLI-Y offers programs for eight different critical languages, or foreign languages in high demand that aren’t often taught in high schools, with the newest addition being the Bahasa Indonesia dialect. These programs occur both in the summer and during the school year and are held in different cultural centers across the globe.
“It’s a State Department funded program,” Villas said. “They basically have programs in critical languages to increase learning for them, so Arabic, Russian, Korean, Mandarin, Hindi, Persian, and Turkish are the programs they offer.”
The application process takes large amounts of determination, as around 25 pages of questions and essay topics must be answered in order to appeal for a position.
“I started the application this past August and then I submitted it in October, and in December I found out that I was a semifinalist,” Villas said. “With that I had to do an interview and a medical examination, and then I just had to wait for a couple of months, and then found out in March.”
In terms of every language sector of the NSLI-Y program, the overall number of applicants totaled to around 3,300. Of that number, only 15% received scholarships to participate in the program, with 22 of those students grabbing positions in the Arabic section of the program.
“I really want to improve my reading and writing skills because that’s just something that I lack in,” Villas said. “I [hope for] just new experiences and getting to live with a different culture and a host family and stuff like that.”
Villas began her studies last summer, participating in several camps and programs and has continued learning Arabic throughout the school year via self-study.
“I went to a program at Brigham Young University in Utah, another federal program called STARTALK, and that’s more for like domestic kind of learning critical languages here in the United States,” Villas said. “I spent three weeks on campus learning Arabic, and then I spent another three weeks in El Paso with family, and then I went to a camp there too.”
In Morocco, Villas will stay with a host family for the duration of the program. The NSLI-Y program also allows students to reside in a group housing situation with other attendees for part of the trip and a host family for the other.
“I also had to write a host family letter, so like, ‘Hi, I’m Addie, and this is me,’” Villas said. “It was pretty fun.”
Over one million Americans speak Arabic, making it the fastest growing second language in the United States. This allows students to connect with not only those overseas, but people right next door.
“I’m going to be going and living in a whole different culture than Dripping Springs,” Villas said. “I think that’s like one thing I’m really gonna walk away with, is just being open to experiences.”