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A&S Student Awarded Critical Language Scholarship to Study Chinese

By Emily Sallee

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 4, 2020) — The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that foreign language and international economics/Chinese and international studies major and Chellgren Fellow Michael Di Girolamo has been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Chinese. The Critical Language Scholarship is an intensive language and cultural immersion program for American students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities.

Administered through the U.S. Department of State, CLS is part of a wider government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering one of 15 foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship period and later apply their language skills in their future professional careers.

Sydney Blocker, a political science and international studies senior, and Sereniti Coulter, a linguistics sophomore, were named alternates for the 2020 CLS program.

While recipients of the award typically spend eight to 10 weeks abroad, the program moved online this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Di Girolamo will spend six weeks studying Chinese virtually with Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, China. The program includes class sessions, cultural activities, individual consultations with language instructors, and language practice sessions with students enrolled at SNNU. Di Girolamo’s program will also incorporate two thematic concentrations: Business and Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development.

The son of Martin and Kelly Di Girolamo of Lexington, Di Girolamo plans to use the knowledge he gains from the CLS program in his future professional endeavors.

“Whether I decide to work for the American government under the Department of State or choose to pursue a path in the private sector working for a nongovernmental organization or financial institution, an advanced understanding of the Chinese language and culture will prepare me for a world in which the United States and China are the dominant political and economic forces,” he said.

Di Girolamo became interested in East Asia during summer 2017, when he participated in the Department of State's National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program to study Korean in Jeonju, South Korea. During his time at UK, he has served as a research assistant in the Bilingual and Biliteracy Research Lab and as a student assistant and acting office coordinator in the Office of China Initiatives, studied classical Chinese through independent study, and cofounded the UK Korean Language and Culture Club. He has also completed an internship with U.S. Embassy in Seoul, participated in the Indiana University Chinese Flagship Summer Language Workshop and received a Zolondek Travel Grant from the College of Arts and Sciences to study in Italy. He credits Liang LuoMatthew Wells and Ioana Raluca Larco, associate professors in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Sihui Ke, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, for serving as mentors during his time at UK.

Upon completing his degree in May 2021, Di Girolamo plans to attend graduate school to study international relations, with a focus on Korean Peninsula affairs in addition to China affairs. Before entering graduate school, he hopes to spend a year teaching English with the Fulbright Program in Taiwan or the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

“Either of these experiences would greatly benefit me by preparing me to better understand East Asian societies and cultures outside of the Korean Peninsula, providing an interesting contrast to my experiences in Korea,” he said.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office, housed in the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence, well in advance of the scholarship deadline. Staff is available for virtual appointments to discuss opportunities for the 2020-2021 academic year and beyond.

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