Q&A: CMU student to be alumni ambassador for the Critical Language Scholarship

Senior, Alexandra Delellis, posing for her portrait in Grawn Hall, Saturday, Feb. 19

Originally from Kazakhstan, Central Michigan University senior, Alexandra DeLellis has been selected to be an alumni ambassador for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). She will begin the position once it is announced by the scholarship organization.

Ambassador are past CLS scholarship participants that focus on recruitment for the program. They mentor students planning to apply and currently taking part in the scholarship.

The CLS program, administered by the United States Department of State (DOS) in partnership with American Councils, is an immersive study abroad program that focuses on 15 languages critical to America's engagement with the world. These languages include Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.

The summer-long program offers two semesters worth of learning languages that are often under-taught and crucial to economic prosperity and national security, according to DOS.

Some of the languages taught in the program do not require students to have prior knowledge.

Central Michigan Life sat down with DeLellis to ask her about studying abroad, the ambassadorship and what she is looking forward to with the position.

How did you first hear about CLS?

I'm a heritage speaker of Russian, meaning I spoke it growing up and eventually stopped. So my language skills never quite developed to fluency.

I was looking for programs that would accommodate the unconventional language levels of a heritage speaker, and in my search for programs for heritage speakers, I found the Critical Language Scholarship. 

Where and when did you study abroad? 

I studied abroad virtually in the summer of 2021 and my site was Vladimir, Russia. I had an excellent time with the KORA Language Learning Center. The professors are really experienced in teaching immersion. I have a very good experience and I learned a lot.

Studying abroad virtually was much more engaging than I had thought it would be. The Critical Language Scholarship is a group-based learning program, and they really meant group-based. Within the first week or two, my group and I were meeting after classes, we were discussing our materials, and discussing the cultural activities that we were doing with our program.

The combination of the cultural activities, the experience of our professors, and the closeness of the groups on the program made it incredibly worthwhile. I would recommend it to anybody, even if it goes virtual again in future cycles, because it was such a beneficial activity for me.

How and why did you become an ambassador for CLS?

During the summer of 2021, when I was on the scholarship, I participated in something called Affinity Groups. They were a kind of a new activity that the Critical Language Scholarship was doing. These Affinity Groups brought together students from many languages to discuss a common interest in free time after classes.

I was in the Heritage Speaker Affinity Group. That means heritage speakers from many languages, from Russian, Arabic, Hindi, and so on and so forth, all gathered and talked about our experiences being ethically connected to the language, having different experiences with the language to our classmates, and how those things impacted our learning in the program.

This affinity group was administered by two alumni ambassadors named Maya Best and Liz George. They were absolutely incredible in the group. I talked to them during these events about what being an alumni ambassador was like and what they did and how they impacted their communities by doing so, and they really inspired me to apply to become an alumni ambassador.

What do you hope to achieve as an ambassador for CLS?

One of the main things I think I want to focus on is doing outreach at CMU. So when I was applying, I was trying to find alumni at CMU to reach out to and we had nobody. Our campus advisor hadn't had much experience with applications either because there hadn't been a lot of applicants.

As an Alumni Ambassador during this year, I really want to focus on getting involved with CMU and getting students interested in the Critical Language Scholarship. It's really an amazing program. It's completely free. When I was a student, I got a partial stipend, even for being virtual. I increased by several language levels in just eight weeks. So there's an incredible number of benefits of this program. I really want to focus on getting CMU students the information they need to apply and then get them excited to apply to this scholarship.

What else do you want people to know about your study abroad or ambassadorship?

Everybody should apply. I'm a very big believer in applying for things even if you're not certain about it because it's not your job to judge whether you're the right fit. That's the job of the selection committee. There's no reason to limit yourself by not applying when you could apply and possibly win.

If anybody at CMU or any other university is interested in the Critical Language Scholarship, please reach out to me. I would be more than happy to discuss it.

I'm absolutely overjoyed to be able to serve the people who have been involved in this scholarship for this upcoming year. I'm absolutely very excited. I'm looking forward to being able to engage with other alumni, to be able to engage with potential students, and with finalists as that season approaches. I'm just looking forward to being able to share my experiences and help people on their journeys with the Critical Language Scholarship or any other study abroad because the value of virtual study abroad is a lot more than some people may think.