Summertime Standout: Ashley VanDyke

Ashley VanDyke in China
Ashley VanDyke

For international studies majors, learning the history, culture, and language of a diverse region around the world is part of the program. This summer, international studies senior Ashley VanDyke had the opportunity to immerse herself directly into the culture she has studied for so many years.

In May, VanDyke embarked on an intensive, eight-week language learning program in Dalian, China after being awarded the Critical Language Scholarship from the US. Department of State. The government scholarship is designed to immerse American students in different regions around the world to gain language understanding and culturally-enriched experiences.

The goal of the Critical Language Scholarship is to expand the amount of students studying critical foreign languages as defined by the state department, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian. There are a total of 14 foreign language programs offered, all chosen because of their critical importance to America’s economic prosperity and national security.

VanDyke’s concentration in Asian Studies and advanced studies in both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese made her application stand out for the nationally-competitive program that accepts approximately 600 students every year.

The Critical Language Scholarship also aims to prepare students for their professional careers after graduation, equipping them with in-demand skills for the globalized workforce.

“In a lot of ways this experience has actually broadened my ideas of what I want to do after graduation,” said VanDyke. “Not only is the Critical Language Scholarship a great opportunity to learn language and culture, but it’s also a great opportunity to make new friends and network with people from different areas of study.”

After graduation, VanDyke is interested in working in the state department or the Central Intelligence Agency. Both opportunities would allow her to use her foreign language knowledge and education abroad experience.

During a typical day in the program, VanDyke ate breakfast with her host family before departing on a 15-minute walk to Dalian University of Technology. There, she intensively studied the Chinese language and Chinese popular culture during her classes and chosen electives. In the eight weeks she was there, VanDyke learned the equivalent of a year of university-level Chinese study.

Outside of the classroom, VanDyke and her friends explored different areas of Dalian and neighboring cities during weekend cultural excursions.

“It’s just been really amazing to get to live and study in a foreign country,” said VanDyke. “Even though China has many differences from the U.S., with technology and globalization it’s easy to forget that you’re halfway around the world because it becomes your new normal.”

The International Studies Program is offered in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.