Language Immersion Programs: What to Know

Language Immersion Programs: What to Know | Study Abroad and BeyondFull disclosure – I am a dual language major.

*collective gasp*

(To be fair, the languages were French and English #liberalartsforlife.)

I strongly believe in the importance of learning another language.

However, it is difficult to become proficient in another language without being immersed in the language and its cultural context.

Coincidentally, the U.S. government also believes that some languages are suuuuuuuper important, and supports immersive study in said language for its citizens.

One of the most expansive international language immersion programs, the Critical Language Scholarship, has an application deadline in November; it is important to write a kick-ass application essay now to have enough time to edit it before the deadline!

I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Why is language learning important?

It just is.

Why is language learning important, according to the U.S. government?

So, there’s this thing called national security.  And economic prosperity… but let’s focus on the former.

There are some countries and cultures with which the government would like to foster stronger rapport and relationships.

On the other hand, there are some countries with which the government has… more complicated relationships.

For either of these groups, it is in the best interest of the U.S. government to have more citizens proficient in the language of the government and people.

Not many students in the United States study Urdu or Korean in high school, and the government would like to facilitate more language learning.

Also, people learning a critical language makes the government look pretty good.

A “critical language?”  The hell is that?

These not-really-taught-in-public-schools languages are ever-changing; again, the countries that speak these languages either represent a national security interest or an economic interest.

For fun, just guess which language corresponds with either category in the 2017 list of Critical Languages:

Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Azerbaijani, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Bangla, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu, and Swahili.

You probably aren’t wrong.

So, what programs are available?  And what’s the deal with the programs?

There are a whole bunch of opportunities available for a few hundred dollars off here, maybe a couple grand here, but I will focus on programs that are fully funded.

Yeah, free-ninety-nine.

Note – I didn’t say that there were no strings attached.

There are government-sponsored opportunities for both college students (and beyond) as well as high school students.  If you have aged out of these programs, make sure your younger siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and everyone else know about these opportunities.

Some of the language programs have a high acceptance rate, and some are extremely competitive.

Below are four opportunities for college students, and four for high school students.

No matter what programs you pursue, to quote Suzanne Collins, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Programs for College Students

For undergraduates, there are summer immersion programs as well as longer study programs available.  They all come with different requirements or post-completion standards, so be sure to review all of the eligibility information prior to completing an application.

Also, many campuses have advisors that have been specifically trained to support student applications.  Start working with an advisor early to submit the strongest application you can!

Critical Language Scholarship

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program


Brief Info: This opportunity is pretty sweet.  Students live with host families, learn as a cohort (lots of emphasis is placed on the group interactions part of the program), and immerse themselves into the language and the culture.  You do not have to have prior knowledge for all of the languages; however, you should have a keen desire to use the language in the future.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 7:59 pm EST.


Type of Program:  Summer Immersion Program; Long-Term Study Program


Brief Info: Oh, DAAD.  This is a super competitive scholarship opportunity in Germany.  Ideally, you do not yet minor or major in German anything (language, studies, history, etc.).  There are scholarship opportunities for either intensive summer programs for students pursuing all degree levels, as well as long term study abroad programs (the longer the better).  Don’t let the competitiveness dissuade you from applying!

2018 Application Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm EST.

Boren Awards

Type of Program: Long-Term Study Program


Brief Info: The Boren Awards are no joke.  There are a ton of different scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and all come with the same stipulation – you have to work for Uncle Sam.  The idea is that the U.S. government would like to benefit from your commitment to language learning, and its investment in you.

2018 Application Deadline: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm EST

Project Go for ROTC

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program


Brief Info: If you aren’t in ROTC, this isn’t for you.  If you are in ROTC, this will probably be perfect for you if you love languages.  This summer immersive language program operates like the Critical Language Scholarship in that it’s fully funded, but is geared to ROTC students.  The benefits are significant – language proficiency bonus pay being one of them.

2018 Application Deadline: Thursday, January 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm EST

Programs for High School Students

For high school students, there are summer immersion programs as well as academic year exchange programs available.  Make sure to talk to your parents and your high school counselor to see how these opportunities will fit in with your high school career.

Youth Ambassador Program

Type of Program: Cultural Exchange Program


Brief Info: This program brings delegations of students from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States for up to 4 weeks and vice versa.  For outgoing programs, each destination is managed by different sponsors.  Some of the sponsors require follow-on projects where participants can demonstrate the things they have learned to their home communities.

2018 Application Deadline: Check each program for details.

Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad

Type of Program:  Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: The whole point of this program is to facilitate high school students from the U.S. gaining a better perspective of the Muslim world, and vice versa.  While this isn’t language immersion per se, cultural and language immersion go hand in hand.  Also, YES participants have a tendency to change the world for good.  Whether those two things are directly related is up to you to decide.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 2:59 am EST.

Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange

Type of Program: Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: It’s like the U.S. and Germany have a seriously positive relationship going on or something; this is the only Western European country that really has language scholarships available.  This program immerses participants in German culture by way of a host family and a German high school.

2018 Application Deadline: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 2:59 am EST.

National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y)

Type of Program: Summer Immersion Program, Academic Year Exchange Program


Brief Info: This is basically the Critical Language Scholarship for high schoolers.  It has all the hits: host families, cultural immersion, a strong desire to change the world (or at least gain a better understanding of it).  There is significant support while you are abroad, so rest assured that Uncle Sam will take care of you while you’re away.

2018 Application Deadline: Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm EST

Final Thoughts

Intensive and immersive language study is one of the most challenging and enriching experiences you can have.

There will be crappy days, for sure.

However, the connections and relationships that you will gain from these experiences are unparalleled.

Ultimately, you’ll find a new home and blaze your own path in the world.

So… what are you waiting for?

Looking for more information?  Be sure to head to the Resources page for more opportunities for funding!

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