Three Students Awarded US Fellowships for Language Exchange

Three Fulbright and Critical Language Scholarship winners
May 21 2021

Three NYU Shanghai students and alumni will receive prestigious awards for work and study funded by the U.S. Department of State beginning this summer. 

NYU Shanghai alum Billy Chan ’20 has received a Fulbright Award as an English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan for the 2021-2022 academic year, while current students Jaime Cantwell ’22 and Samuel Boghossian ’23 have received Critical Language Scholarships (CLS) for a summer of intensive study of Indonesian and Chinese language, respectively. 

Four other NYU Shanghai students were named alternates for Fulbright and CLS Program awards. Eszter Vigh is an alternate for the Fulbright Study Award to fully fund Master’s degree study at Finland’s University of Turku. D.J. Bobbs ’21, Ashley Zhu ’22, and Stephanie Anderson ’23 were named alternates in CLS programs in Chinese and Korean, placing within the top ten percent of over 4,600 applicants.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program and the Critical Language Scholarships Program are highly competitive scholarship programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and both were founded upon similar principles of promoting friendship and mutual understanding among nations through educational exchange. The Fulbright and CLS programs provide successful U.S. citizen applicants with full-tuition scholarships or teaching stipends, in addition to covering room, board, and travel expenses for in-person programs abroad.

Although the format and timeframe of each program may change due to continuing anti-COVID travel restrictions, Billy Chan ’20 – a Physics and Chemistry double major – is currently scheduled to begin his Fulbright position in person in late summer 2021. Chan has received a post in Taipei, where he will use English to teach a humanities or social science subject of his choosing. 

Chan says he is looking forward to teaching again, after spending much of his free time in high school tutoring underprivileged and special needs students at schools around his hometown of San Francisco, California. Inspired by a program at a school where he volunteered, Chan also hopes to set up an extracurricular program in Taipei where students and community members can build bicycles from scratch, simultaneously learning the fundamentals of mechanics and practical English communication skills.

Even though his prior teaching experience and academic background are in STEM fields like computer science and mathematics, Chan said he would like to pursue graduate study in international relations, and he believes the Fulbright program will give him the opportunity to build bridges between these fields. 

“At the surface level, you can see them as two very separate things. But really, there are a lot of skills in analysis and problem-solving that you learn in physics and chemistry which can be brought into the policy-making or diplomatic sphere,” Chan said.

Jaime Cantwell ’22, a Social Science major with minors in linguistics and Chinese language, will be making her second foray into learning the notoriously complex Indonesian language this summer, after first studying the language through a CLS scholarship in fall 2020. Cantwell’s summer 2020 program in Indonesian was originally cancelled due to the pandemic, but when a smaller, virtual version of the program became available later that year, she successfully made it through a second round of selection in order to attend.

“My experience studying at NYU Shanghai helped me to articulate my cultural adaptability, interest in intercultural exchange, and readiness for an intensive language program like CLS, which really helped me stand out among the applicant pool,” Cantwell said.

Though she had no experience with Indonesian prior to applying for her first CLS scholarship, Cantwell said she has become captivated by Indonesian language and culture. As the crossroads of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, Indonesia has long been a crux of trade and cultural exchange throughout the region, Cantwell said, and that status is reflected in its language, a lingua franca uniting roughly 700 dialects and incorporating elements from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit.

This year’s Indonesian program will again be online, but Cantwell’s fall 2020 experience with intensive language learning showed her that “there is still so much you can do from behind a screen.” In one of Cantwell’s favorite classes, an artist from the East Javan city of Malang gave a presentation on Indonesia’s coffee industry, followed by a primer in how to use coffee grounds to “paint.”

“It was difficult not having a teacher in person to give us guidance, but since it was a live session over Zoom and the materials were easy to get on our own, we were still able to ask questions and paint ‘together’ with our classmates, language partners, and teachers,” Cantwell said.

Sam Boghossian ’23, a Social Science major with a concentration in International Relations, will be attending a virtual CLS program in Chinese, a language that he has been studying for nearly a decade. Boghossian says he was initially drawn to the challenge of studying Chinese, but a study abroad program in Anshan, Liaoning Province when he was 15 turned his interest into a passion. His experience there emphasized interaction with local people outside the classroom, an approach that Boghossian said he thinks the CLS program also embraces despite its intensive nature.

“I think it’s possible to be in a Chinese language class for your entire life and come out really not being able to speak Chinese. But the CLS program includes a lot of work with a language partner and weekly cultural activities, so the time inside and outside a formal classroom is roughly equal, and that's something that I know is really helpful for me,” Boghossian said.

This year’s five CLS recipients and alternates are a record high for NYU Shanghai, accounting for one-third of the CLS awards granted to students across the NYU Global Network’s three portal campuses.