Katie Ryan-O’Flaherty, a second-year religion major and environmental studies minor, has been awarded the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Urdu in Lucknow, India.
The CLS Program is a fully-funded summer program for American undergraduate and graduate students that seeks to broaden the base of Americans studying and mastering “critical languages” considered important for economic and political growth. Ryan-O’Flaherty applied for the scholarship after taking an Intro to Hinduism class at Oberlin.
“I thought it sounded like a great opportunity,” she says. “I love learning languages, but I’ve never had the chance to learn a non-Western language before.”
Ryan-O’Flaherty, who is a member of the women’s field hockey team, has been studying French since fourth grade, and spent a gap year in Rwanda before beginning her studies at Oberlin. However, she has “never heard or spoken” Urdu, the national language of Pakistan and regions of India.
The CLS program does not require its participants to know a critical language in order to apply. Students undergo an intensive orientation in Washington, D.C., to familiarize themselves with the basics of the language before leaving the country . Once they arrive abroad, they pledge not to speak English for the duration of their trip.
Though language-focused, the program will allow Ryan-O’Flaherty to delve into both of her academic interests. She interested in using her time in India to learn about the intersections of Hinduism and Islam, and to study Bangledeshi “environmental refugees” who have been displaced from their home by climate change.
Ryan-O’Flaherty is also looking forward to the opportunity to learn the Arabic alphabet. “That will give me a jumping off point for learning the language,” she says. “It’s always been a dream for me.”