Featured Fellow: Katerina Yeaw
Applying For And Winning A Fellowship:
Katrina Yeaw on the Critical Language Scholarship
FELLOWSHIP I WON AND WHEN: I received the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Arabic in the Summer 2009. I completed the fellowship at the study center in Alexandria, Egypt.
MY AREA OF ACADEMC INTEREST: Modern History of the Middle East and North Africa.
THE SUBSTANCE OF MY FELLOWSHIP PROPOSAL: The application requires that you provide background information about your educational experience as well as respond to four questions about your previous language studies, your future academic and personal goals, your leadership skills and your ability to handle the stress of living abroad in a host country.
LOW POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS: The CLS application was one of a number of fellowship and PhD applications that I completed during the fall of 2008, along with my class work for my Master’s in History. There were a number of points when it seemed that taking the time to finish one more application would be impossible, or at least not worth the effort, and I considered abandoning it. I’m glad, however, that I took the extra time to get the CLS application completed.
HIGH POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS: The high point was definitely finding out that I had been accepted.
MISADVENTURES DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: I had studied Arabic for three years before I arrived in Alexandria and I was pretty confident in my abilities at the beginning of the program. However, I was completely unprepared for the differences between Egyptian Colloquial Arabic and the Modern Standard Arabic, which is taught in the United States. I had trouble communicating with just about everyone I met for the first several weeks, which was pretty demoralizing. One time it took five minutes to explain to a cab driver where I was trying to go and I got horribly lost in the process. My colloquial Arabic eventually improved, but it did take some time.
BEST MOMENT DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: The best moment during the fellowship was watching the sunset from the top of a giant sand dune over the desert outside of the Siwa oasis in western Egypt after spending the day exploring the region in Jeeps. We finished the day by having dinner in a Berber camp in the desert under the stars.
ADVICE TO APPLICANTS: Overall, I would recommend that applicants start the process early and talk to the faculty who will be writing their recommendations as soon as they decide to apply. Having applied to this fellowship more than once, I can attest to the fact that it’s very competitive and that a hastily put together application will not get you accepted. In addition, place particular emphasis, when constructing your responses to the essay questions, on the way you plan to use your language skills after the fellowship is over; the reviewers weigh that factor heavily in their final decisions. Finally, I would suggest speaking with San Francisco State’s Fellowship Advisor; she offered extremely valuable feedback while I was applying.
WHY I’D DO IT AGAIN: The CLS scholarship is a wonderful opportunity to study a language and travel in a host country during the summer, as well as meet other students in your field of study. I also made some wonderful friends in Egypt that I have since gone back to visit.
WHAT I’M DOING NOW: I am currently in the process of completing a PhD at Georgetown University in the History of the Middle East and North Africa.