Ella Hampton, a rising junior at Cherry Hill East, was one of 100 students who received a scholarship to participate in a six-week National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Virtual Summer Intensive that took place from June 29 to Aug. 11.
The six-days-a-week NSLI-Y programs promote students’ study of Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian and Turkish. It is hosted by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
Due to COVID restrictions, the Chinese program that Hampton was part of was virtual.
“I think I was able to learn more in that six-week span than in an entire school year because the teachers were very, very good,” she said. “ … I wasn’t getting the 24-hour immersion as I would have done if I were to go to China, but they gave us a lot of resources.”
Hampton noted that the program has made her more confident in speaking and reading Chinese, though she would still classify her language skills as lower-intermediate.
Each day of the program, students had two-and-a half hours of classes, with 90 minutes spent learning the Chinese language and the next hour learning the country’s culture in English. On the weekends, Chinese families shared information and demonstrated activities and the class later got to speak with Chinese students.
“I really liked the topics we talked about,” Hampton recalled. “One of them was college entrance examinations, and how they varied between America and China. … The effect (of the gaokao, as the tests are known) plays in a Chinese person’s life is much greater than the SATs do in an American person’s life.”
Rather than the SATs or ACTs, the gaokao is a national entrance exam whose score is the sole factor for college admissions.
Learning Chinese is one of the ways that Hampton – who is half-Chinese and half-Spanish – connects with her culture. She studies both languages at East, and in the future, she hopes to take what she’s learned and apply it to international affairs or journalism.
At home, Hampton grew up immersed in Chinese and Spanish cultures and is accustomed to hearing her mom speak in Cantonese, a Chinese dialect.
“Sadly, after all this, I’m learning Mandarin, so my mom doesn’t even know what I’m trying to say,” Hampton noted. “I can’t practice with her or anything, but I can speak to my grandparents. They know both.”
According to a press release, “the NSLI-Y program was launched in 2006 to help increase the number of young Americans with language skills necessary to advance international dialogue, promote economic prosperity and innovation worldwide and contribute to national security by building understanding across cultures.”
Applications for the 2023-’24 program will be available through September at www.nsliforyouth.org.