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Two students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have received fully funded scholarships to travel abroad this summer to study languages considered crucial to the United States’ future security and stability.

This year’s Critical Language Scholarships recipients will be studying Turkish and Russian.

Diba-Seddighi.jpgDiba Seddighi, a senior from Farragut, Tennessee, studying global public health in the College Scholars Program, will head to Ankara, Turkey. As a volunteer with Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Seddighi saw an influx of Turkish immigrants in the Knoxville area and struggled with how impersonal it felt to not be able to directly communicate with them.

“We didn’t have individual volunteers that could communicate and we used translation and interpreter services. I wasn’t able to provide the authenticity that they needed, so that got me interested in studying Turkish myself.”

Although she describes herself as a beginning learner of the language, her volunteerism with refugees has introduced Seddighi to conversational Turkish. She hopes that her studies will allow her to work with more global organizations impacting public health.

Megan-Whittle.jpgMegan Whittle, a senior from Manchester, Kentucky, studying nuclear engineering and Russian, will travel to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her interest in nuclear security led Whittle to begin pursuing Russian as a second language at UT.

“I want to improve my fluency in Russian, and I’ve taken all of the classes I can offered at UT. So doing a study abroad was the next step,” said Whittle. “I’ve heard really good things about people who have done CLS and how the program improves their fluency and knowledge of the language.”

She hopes the study abroad experience and intensive time focused on learning Russian will propel her toward her dream of working for the government in the nuclear field.

An additional three students have been designated alternates and may receive awards if placements become available during the coming months.

The Critical Language Scholarship is a US Department of State program that seeks to expand the number of Americans studying languages that are essential for the nation’s engagement with the world. Recipients spend eight to 10 weeks overseas learning one of 15 languages—Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, or Urdu—and serve as ambassadors representing the diversity of the US and building lasting relationships with people in their host countries.

The program includes intensive language instruction and cultural enrichment experiences. Recipients are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and to apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

UT students interested in applying for the Critical Language Scholarship can visit the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships to learn more about the program and make an appointment to meet with a staff member.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,