UNC Charlotte Student Receives Critical Language Scholarship Honor

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Congratulations to Ellie McCutchen, UNC Charlotte student and recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship! Ellie is studying abroad in Taiwan this summer as a part of the the Critical Language Scholarship program, a prestigious honor awarded by the U.S. Department of State, funded by the U.S Government, and administered by American Councils for International Education. This is a competitive program designed to increase the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages, specifically those that are instrumental to national security and economic prosperity. This is a competitive program, and those who receive the scholarship represent the full diversity of the United States with a variety of backgrounds, interests, fields of study, and career paths.

This program provides an opportunity for American students to prepare themselves for a globalized workforce by immersing themselves in a foreign language and culture. The CLS program is specifically designed for students with a strong commitment to language learning who aim to continue learning and improve their language abilities even after their program.

While most languages offered by the CLS Program do not require applicants to have any experience, Ellie is studying Mandarin, which requires a minimum of two years. The CLS Program covers approximately one academic year of university-level language coursework during an immersive period or a minimum of eight weeks. Less than ten percent of applicants are selected, and we are so proud to have Ellie McCutchen represent UNC Charlotte. Ellie is a sophomore, a Levine scholar, and a Niner Guide here at UNC Charlotte. She is currently triple majoring in political science, sociology and economics with a minor in Chinese. We sat down with her to learn more about her motivation and thoughts on the program.

Q & A with Ellie McCutchen

Q: Why do you want to study abroad?

A: I can gain a lot from it – It’s a new place, new people, being outside of a world that you know. Valuing yourself in an environment you haven’t placed yourself in. Interesting way to look at yourself and your perspective. It’s a great way to continue my studies in a different way. [Study abroad] is a good opportunity to learn a language and sounds like a fun time. I also have friends currently studying abroad in Poland and Italy and one is going to Spain over. My friend group is studying abroad.

Q: What do you hope to gain from the experience?

A: I [hope to] understand myself a bit more, (my Chinese side) getting really immersed in Taiwanese culture, understanding who I am and my ancestry. Additionally, improved language skills – to feel more comfortable in my language abilities and apply those skills back here in Charlotte. I want to be more involved – I currently help run the Chinese undergraduate student association – and I will bring knowledge back. [I’m also] looking for overall improved communication skills. If I can do it in Chinese, I can do it in English!

Q: Where did your interest in the Chinese language come from?

A: I was adopted from China at the age of one. I was raised culturally White – my parents are White – and I always wanted to explore the Chinese side of myself. I’ve always wanted to learn a different language. It’s so cool how people can switch [languages] in their brains and I want to be a part of that.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most in your program and/or host country?

A: I’m excited to experience the more traditional Chinese and Taiwanese food and learn how to make it. Connecting with culture through food is very exciting and fun. Making friends from new places is a lot of fun too – both CLS scholars and [students] at the university abroad. Going places and exploring – broadening my horizons.

Q: What advice would you give other students applying for the Critical Language Scholarship?

A: Just apply! I was worried I wasn’t qualified enough or I wouldn’t be good enough and you can apply multiple times. Put your best foot forward and see what happens. I didn’t expect to get it – i knew it was highly competitive, but my Chinese teacher said “What’s the worst that can happen?” If you’re interested in any language, CLS is a great way to gain that experience. Plus, some of the languages don’t require any prerequisites.

While Ellie is still deciding her career path, she is certain that learning the Chinese language will help her in any field she chooses – law, international politics, etc. As mentioned in her interview, Ellie has a personal connection to the Chinese language and knows that it will be a valuable addition to her professional development. The CLS program is a fantastic way to encompass personal and professional goals and is awarded on an annual basis. We agree with Ellie’s advice – “Just apply!”

A huge “谢谢” to Ellie McCutchen for sharing her story, her time, and her exciting experience with us! We look forward to reconnecting after her program and hearing all about it.

Congratulations, Ellie!