Spanish is swell and French is fine, but when Madeline Dorman was looking for a language to learn she decided to look outside the box.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse junior spent her summer in Lucknow, India, where she spent two months learning Urdu, the official language of Pakistan and some parts of India. Dorman spent her summer abroad as part of the U.S. State Department Critical Languages Scholarship, which works to promote proficiency in languages critical to national security or the global economy.
Dorman said the program gave her both an opportunity to study abroad, as well as do something most other UW-L students wouldn’t have been able to do. Growing up in Appleton, Wis., Dorman said, she became good friends with an exchange student from Pakistan during her junior year in high school, and learning Urdu helped her connect with her friend’s culture.
“A lot of people don’t even know what Urdu is,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons why I became interested in learning the language.”
Languages included in the program include Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Korean and Japanese. Urdu is spoken by hundreds of millions of people in the world, according to the CLS website, and both India and Pakistan have been key players in South Asian affairs and the global economy.
More than 550 American students representing 217 colleges and universities were selected from more than 5,000 applicants to receive a 2017 CLS award. Applications for the 2018 CLS program are available at clscholarship.org and are due Nov. 15.
Dorman applied for the program in the fall of her sophomore year after searching for Urdu language programs on the internet. The application process involved essays and letters of reference, but she said the paperwork in order to travel to Lucknow was the most difficult part of the process.
She left for the Indian city in June and spent two months at the American Institute of Indian studies learning the language with about 30 other students. Divided into levels, the students spent four hours each day in class learning and practicing the language, which was taught mostly in Urdu.
There was a little bit of a learning curve, Dorman said, as she was a complete beginner when she first got to Lucknow. She learned the alphabet in a single day and said it was hard to get the grammar down, especially the tenses for some verbs.
But after a few weeks, she became more confident in her abilities, and by the time she left the country could converse with residents of the city and get around town or go shopping on her own.
There was also a bit of culture shock for Dorman, who spent a lot of the first month in the compound on the campus. Lucknow is hot, with temperatures reaching as high as 95 degrees, or 110 degrees with the heat index, which was also hard to get used to.
But the people were really friendly to each other and even strangers, she said. If a taxi or rickshaw drivers needed directions, they’d just ask someone in the neighborhood for help.
“That would be so weird in America,” she said. “But a lot of people there are willing to help each other.”
There were students from all over the United States, she said, mostly from bigger private schools or research universities. Each student was partnered with another and practiced the language with each other for several hours each week.
“I’m pretty sure UW-L was the smallest school represented in Lucknow,” she said. “It was pretty cool to be able to represent my university.”