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Nayantara Arora, along with 500 students in the United States, is spending five weeks of her summer learning a new language through an online immersion program.

Nayantara Arora, 18, already speaks English, Spanish, Hebrew, Punjabi and Hindi/Urdu. COURTESY PHOTO: NAYANTARA ARORA - Nayantara Arora received the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Virtual Intensive scholarship to study Arabic for five weeks during the summer of 2020.

Now she's adding a new one: Arabic.

The recent St. Mary's Academy graduate was awarded the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Virtual Summer Intensive scholarship to study Arabic for five weeks. She is one of 500 students selected for the program out of a pool of 3,000 applicants, who study languages like Chinese, Russian or Turkish.

Nayanatara, who is first-generation Indian American, comes from a multilingual home — she speaks Hindi and Urdu at home, even with her sisters, she said.

Being multilingual opens up avenues of communication, Arora said. "It also allows you to connect with people who you might not have very much in common with, sometimes."

"I used to volunteer a lot with immigrants and refugees," she said. "Sometimes for those people, just hearing a familiar language can really change the way that you interact with them and brings you together."

The program, out of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, an immersion exchange program that promotes critical language learning for youth in the United States, according to a press release. This year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the program is being done virtually.

Despite that, Arora said she still feels pretty immersed in Arabic, two weeks into the program. In addition to 10 hours of language class a week, she spends time with a language partner to practice, and they do activities to learn about Moroccan culture.

Arora said she learned about the National Security Language Initiative online, but was already involved with the State Department — she is currently an intern with the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, which she said she found through WorldOregon, a nonprofit that connects Oregonians to international affairs.

Arora has been heavily involved in organizations centering on equity and inclusion issues, including leading the Student Equity Team and the Asian/Pacific Islander Club at St. Mary's. She also helped found two youth-led organizations that fight climate change and connect youth across cultures through storytelling and art.

In her limited free time, she said she enjoys playing violin, dancing Bharatnatyam, an Indian classical dance, designing earrings and drinking boba.

Arora plans on attending the University of Oregon's Robert D. Clark Honors College as a Stamps Scholar, the most prestigious scholarship at the university.

"I don't really have a solid idea of which route I want to go, whether it's like international economics or maybe the foreign service route," Arora said. "I do know that I want to be in a position where I can utilize my languages.


Gina Scalpone
Reporter
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