Bisset ’24 Wins Critical Language Scholarship

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON – Bard College senior Melonie Bisset ’24, a film and electronic arts major, has won a highly selective Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) for the 2024 summer session. CLS, a program of the US Department of State, provides recipients with overseas placements that include intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. Each summer, American undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at US colleges and universities across the country, spend 8 to 10 weeks learning one of 13 languages at an intensive study abroad institute. The CLS Program is designed to promote rapid language gains and essential intercultural fluency in regions that are critical to US national security and economic prosperity. The languages include Arabic, Azerbaijani, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

Bisset will study Portuguese at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The CLS Program in Rio de Janeiro provides a language learning environment designed to cover the equivalent of one academic year of university-level Portuguese study during an eight-week period. While in Brazil, Bisset will live with a local host family, eating breakfast with them each morning and spending free weekends with them. Host families help students integrate into daily life in Rio de Janeiro, introduce them to their extended networks, and create opportunities for them to practice their Portuguese in a more relaxed setting. Students also meet with a language partner several hours per week to practice conversational language skills and explore the city, planning their own activities with their language partners based on their interests.

Bisset writes that her interests have always been at the intersection of multiple cultures. That is where she feels most like herself—where she belongs. Accordingly, that is why Brazilian culture has always captivated her: its intense mix of diverse cultures. Aside from music and dance, she is also attracted to Brazilian filmmakers engaged in debates surrounding ecocinema, poverty, and multiculturalism. Her ultimate goal is to create a US-based nonprofit that facilitates cross cultural exchange and understanding through language and art.

“I am extremely grateful to receive the Critical Language Scholarship, and even more excited for the opportunity to study Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro this summer,” says Bisset. “As a multicultural-multiracial English, Mandarin, and Spanish speaker, a certified TESOL instructor, a filmmaker, an Argentine Tango dancer, a translator, and most importantly a story teller, my aspiration has always been to facilitate greater intercultural understanding through engagement with the arts and languages. I hope to establish my own organization dedicated to these dreams one day. This immersive language and cultural experience will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on my personal life and career development.”

The CLS Program is part of a US government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. CLS scholars gain critical language and cultural skills that enable them to contribute to US economic competitiveness and national security. Approximately 500 competitively selected American students at US colleges and universities participate in the CLS Program each year.

“Critical” languages are those that are less commonly taught in US schools, but are essential for America’s engagement with the world. CLS plays an important role in preparing US students for the 21st century’s globalized workforce, increasing American competitiveness, and contributing to national security. CLS scholars serve as citizen ambassadors, representing the diversity of the United States abroad and building lasting relationships with people in their host countries.

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