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Cadets GO global to learn languages

Project GO 2016
Nikolas Blanks explores the fringes of the Sahara Desert during his study abroad trip to Fez, Morocco, funded by a Project Global Officer scholarship.

Like any other college student studying a foreign language, University of North Georgia (UNG) Cadet Nikolas Blanks knows that cultural immersion is critical for learning, but cost can sometimes be a deterrent.

However, thanks to a Project Global Officer (GO) scholarship for the 2015-16 academic year, Blanks was one of 17 UNG students to study a foreign language abroad. Project GO supports ROTC cadets who wish to study a critical language during their college career. These critical languages are designated by the U.S. Department of Defense based on military, political or other important U.S. interests in the regions where the languages are spoken.

"By providing resources and financial support to ROTC students for initial language acquisition in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian, Project GO gives students opportunities to begin their study and then advance to the intermediate level through study abroad programs," said Dr. Chris Jespersen, dean of UNG's College of Arts & Letters and principal investigator of the federal grant supporting GO. "Since first receiving Project GO funding in 2008, UNG has seen many students start their language learning through this program and then secure prestigious national awards such as Boren, Gilman, and Fulbright as well as funding from the Chinese government to study in China for a year. Also, the faculty UNG has hired through Project GO have made a tremendous difference in the lives of many students over the years."

Of the 63 GO awardees, 46 studied in UNG's Summer Language Institute (SLI), while the other 17 took their study to a country where their chosen language is spoken natively. Blanks also participated in SLI the previous year.

"I had no idea what to expect when I traveled to Fez, Morocco," Blanks said. "My host family met me at the taxi stop, where we walked a quarter of a mile with my luggage back to their house. I and the two other students staying with them immediately started learning the family dynamics, and we had to rely on sign language for the first few days; even though we had learned Arabic, each country that speaks Arabic has its own dialect, so there was a period of adjustment."

Blanks stayed with the family for two months while also attending classes with other international students. His cohort included scholars from many countries, including Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Pakistan.

"It was also very useful to be able to travel around the country while we weren't in the classroom," Blanks said. "Learning how much the culture can differ between locations within the same country is very interesting. And, because GO covers so much of the trip, I was able to save my own money to spend on travel within the country to see and learn as much as I could."

Kristal Simon received a Project GO scholarship to study Korean through SLI.

"The immersion SLI offered into the Korean language made for an information-filled summer," Simon said. "Spending the majority of each day with my classmates allowed me to make good friends and also gave me the reassurance that I would have a study-buddy anytime, day or night. I plan to minor in Korean and hopefully use my knowledge of the language either during military training in the future or during my oversea travels."

Project GO's goal is to help ROTC students achieve at least an intermediate level of language proficiency by the time they graduate college. Scholarships are available for both domestic and study abroad programs. The Project GO grant is sponsored by the Defense Language and National Security Education Office and administered by the Institute of International Education.

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