ONIF Student Spotlight

Leah Hartgens '20
Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts

December 6, 2019 

Name: Leah Hartgens

Major: Modern Languages

Graduation Year: 2020

Fellowship Award: The Critical Language Scholarship is a study abroad award given through the government. Participants go to a country for two months where their foreign language is spoken; while there, students will attend language classes, go on excursions, and interact with the community around them. The purpose of this scholarship is to help students master their critical language while learning how to become a good citizen ambassador. I spent the summer studying Chinese in Suzhou, China.

What are your current or future career plans? As of now, I am not certain of my career plans, however, I do know that I want to go back to China. Teaching English in China seems like a great opportunity and one that I am excited to explore.

What did you enjoy the most about the program? I most enjoyed how I was always surrounded by a community that also spoke Chinese. We could go in and out of speaking Chinese whenever we wanted. When learning in American schools, you attend language classes about three times a week for an hour; in China, we spoke more often and freely which increased confidence in our language abilities.

What was the most challenging aspect of the program? The most challenging aspect of the program was living in a host family. I felt like I had been intruding in my host family’s life and did not have a space that was my own. I know this isn’t true, they had experience with host families before so they knew what they were signing up for. They had also given me my own room but it still felt restricting at times.

What advice do you have for future applicants? The concept of living abroad for two months while only being allowed to speak the foreign language you’re learning can be very daunting. I wasn’t sure if I should apply because of how nervous I was. My advice for future applicants is to go into this opportunity fully and with an open mind. With a free perspective, you will gain more from this experience. 

What would people be surprised to know about you? People would be surprised to know that I have had a more difficult time learning Spanish than I have Chinese.


The Critical Language Scholarship is a fully funded summer language immersion program for U.S. Citizens. To learn more visit https://clscholarship.org/ or contact ONIF.