Urbana native headed to India to learn Hindi on State Department's dime

Urbana native headed to India to learn Hindi on State Department's dime

URBANA — Traveling abroad is fun enough. But traveling abroad all expenses paid while living like a local and learning the local language is even better.

Zina Dolan, an Urbana native, is on the receiving end of such an opportunity, courtesy of the federal government. It's part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship program, introduced by the State Department in 2006 as a way to promote language learning and enhance cross-cultural understanding in American teens.

Dolan, a recent high school graduate, said she learned about NSLI-Y through a friend who had attended a Persian learning program in Tajikistan. From there, as a trilingual linguaphile herself, the decision to participate in a language-immersion program came easily, Dolan said.

She applied in October and, after months of anticipation, learned of her acceptance in March. According to the State Department, Dolan is one of about 10 central Illinois students accepted in the past six years.

The 18-year-old will be traveling to the Millennium School in India to participate in an extensive Hindi learning program for seven weeks. Dolan's motivation for learning Hindi, she said, stemmed from her desire to find out more about India's history, which was underrepresented in her education.

"And the best way to learn about that is through language," Dolan said.

She added that learning Hindi will also be applicable to her aspirations in international relations.

As a part of the scholarship, NSLI-Y provides room and board — but in quite an unconventional way. Instead of living in traditional dormitories, Dolan said, participants are matched with host families. She will be living with two host sisters, host parents, even host grandparents.

Moreover, the bulk of Dolan's Indian experience will be spent inside a classroom practicing Hindi speaking and listening. But for her, that won't be a regret. She said that her focus will be on learning about the people and the culture and not so much on traveling — so visiting the Taj Mahal can wait.

"One of my main goals is to learn a lot more about India," she said. "Not the part you hear about in the media, but just from talking to the regular people. And learning Hindi will help me do that."

Dolan will be accompanied by 17 other like-minded students from high schools across the country. They left Monday for Pune, India.

Upon her return from India, Dolan will attend the University of Oregon to study history and international relations.

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