Beyond Borders: Military child expands cultural knowledge

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brieana E. Bolfing
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

For some, learning a new language can be a struggle. For one military child, however, the desire to immerse herself into the culture entirely drove her to enroll in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program.

"I first took a Mandarin course in the summer of 2018," said Evelyn Lee, daughter of a U.S. Air Force active duty member. "There was a spark that ignited at that time. It was fascinating that this culture had been around so long; it is thousands and thousands of years old, but they still kept their traditional language and writing. That was so different from what I was so used to. And I was like, 'wow, I want to keep learning this language.'"

With the help of her mother, Lee discovered NSLI-Y, which was started in 2006.

The U.S. Department of State's NSLI-Y program is part of a U.S. government initiative to foster international cooperation by ensuring that Americans have the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge necessary to communicate effectively. NSLI-Y provides overseas critical language study opportunities to American youth through merit-based scholarships to spark a lifetime interest in critical foreign languages and cultures.

"The program seems like an amazing opportunity,” Lee said. “Being given first-hand experience with the language through the program isn't something a school can provide me. It is not just a simple language course; it's something that I can go out and practice in my daily routines."

The NSLI-Y is a competitive educational experience with only, approximately 600 U.S. teens accepted annually for the nine locations, allowing them to immerse themselves in the language and culture.

Learning a new culture on top of a language can be a tough adjustment, but it is one Lee has been preparing for her whole life.

"As a military child, my whole life is moving every three years," Lee said. "I have had to adapt to each new culture; by having that as my routine, I think it will make this a little easier.

"I decided on going to Taiwan for the program. As a military family member, you go wherever they tell you to. And I think that inspired me to look into study abroad programs and find a culture and a language that I'm interested in, and continue pursuing that in the future. It would be my choice."

The program allows Lee to live in Taiwan for the whole school year, where she plans to visit local markets and attractions to better understand the culture and language.

NSLI-Y aims to provide an incentive for U.S. high school students by producing overseas study opportunities for learning and using foreign languages, hopefully sparking lifetime interest among American youth, such as Lee, encouraging future cultural endeavors.

"I hope letting people know about this will inspire them to try it out," Lee said. "Not many people know about these study abroad programs, and some can be afraid to go out and apply for them. I hope that people who are interested and want to do the same thing see this as the sign to go and follow their passions; I know I am."