Richman becomes the first Allegheny student to receive coveted scholarship

Christina Bryson, Junior Editor

Grant Richman, ’15, has been selected to study Arabic this summer in Morocco through the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The CLS Program is a competitive scholarship that offers intensive summer programs for 13 critical foreign languages.

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs developed this program to help Americans gain proficiency in languages important to national security, a post 9/11 effort in security and safety.

Starting in 2006, the program offered overseas intensive studies in six critical-need languages, including Arabic. Currently, the program offers studies in languages such as Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish and Urdu, awarding approximately 600 scholarships in 2013.

Richman will study one academic year’s worth of university-level language coursework, in Arabic, during his 10-week period in Meknes, Morocco, along with 14 other CLS students enrolled in the program. Of the 15 CLS scholars, Richman included, only two of them are undergraduate students.

“I really wanted to go to Oman,” said Richman. “I went to Israel this previous summer and I wanted to go to Oman because I wanted to get the Gulf culture, which is very, very Arab, but beggars can’t be choosers and I’m very excited to go to Morocco.”

He began taking Arabic courses with Assistant Professor Reem Hilal in fall 2013, after returning from his an Experiential Learning (EL) Seminar in Israel.

“I’m very interested in the Middle East, in particular, the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Richman. “When I was in Israel, I found it very easy to talk to Israelis, who are Jewish and who speak English, so it was very easy to communicate with them, but there was a huge communication barrier with Palestinians who primarily only speak Arabic.”

This communication gap inspired Richman to pursue studying the Arabic language this past year.

“Although I had a wide and encompassing experience in Israel, I felt somewhat limited because I feel like I got more personal stories out of the Israelis I talked to, because there was no communication barrier, than the Palestinians I tried to speak to,” said Richman.

Richman began the application process for the CLS Program after seeing a handout Hilal presented in his Arabic course.

“He’s really enthusiastic and I know he cares a lot about learning the language and the culture,” said Hilal. “So I really encouraged him to apply and also take the scholarship when he got it. I think he’ll do really well when he goes to Morocco.”

Hilal describes Richman as someone who brings a lot of energy to the classroom.

“I really like the Arabic language, I think it’s beautiful,” said Richman. “It’s something I’m really interested in studying and I want it to lead into my career path because I want to teach in higher education in the Middle East, so I thought it was a perfect opportunity and I’m a really big fan of traveling.”

Along with Hilal’s support, Richman received advice from the Gateway’s Career Education services, specifically, from director, Michaeline Shuman.

“Grant really did the bulk of the preparation on his own,” said Shuman. “They’re looking for high academic qualification. They’re also looking for someone who’s already immersed themselves in some language study, which Grant has done through both on campus and through the EL program he participated in. They’re looking for leadership, which is also something that made him shine as an applicant. I also think they fully look at the type of institution the applicant is at.”

Allegheny College has had applicants applying to the CLS Program since its inauguration, but Richman is the first applicant to receive the scholarship.

“We have the capability of putting forth strong candidates,” said Shuman. “The fact that we’ve had so many students apply and not get in, the fact that Grant got in was a big win for us. So, we’re trying to say ‘Okay, now what was the magic in Grant’s application material?’”

Shuman has worked with multiple students on the CLS application, many of them more qualified on paper, but denied from the program.

“The last student I worked with was a women who already studied and become proficient in two languages and had studied abroad in two countries, while she was a student,” said Shuman. “She applied for it, and was independently studying a fourth language that was one of the critical languages, so she applied. She had an outstanding GPA, outstanding track record here with leadership and involvement and didn’t get it. She tried to get more information and they just said ‘You’re not a strong enough applicant.’ She’s on a full ride to law school, one of the top twenty law schools. So that’s the part that’s puzzling to me.”

Shuman suggests that is was Richman’s immersion in Arabic, leadership skills and academic qualifications that improved his chances of being awarded the scholarship.

“We would call it one of the most competitive things you could do as an undergrad, that’s fully funded and international. There aren’t many opportunities that can take you abroad to study a language at no cost to you,” said Shuman.

Richman did not have high expectations when applying for the program, as previous Allegheny students were denied. His reaction to being awarded a fully-funded scholarship opportunity in the Middle East was simply “Holy shit.” He is excited to immerse himself in an Arab culture, but along with the excitement comes some nerves.

“I am nervous about the amount of work because it is very demanding,” said Richman. “Also, I probably have the vocabulary of a five-year-old. So like if you imagine sending a five-year-old to a foreign country and saying ‘Hey, go!’”

Richman will be staying with a host family and a fellow CLS student for his 10 weeks of study.

“I really like learning from other people and other cultures and immersing myself in the food and in the town, the nightlife,” said Richman. “It’s what I did in Israel and it was amazing, life-changing almost and I find that a lot of Americans are kind of close-minded when it comes to other cultures. I think we have so much to learn from other cultures. I find that a lot of cultural misunderstanding comes from that kind of arrogant attitude that ‘We are separate and therefore we have nothing to learn from each other.’ So I’m very excited to just have a new experience.”