Milovan Dakic reflects on his language acquisition experience during the Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad recipient
With an ever-changing political climate that seems to constantly be heading in a downwards slope of instability and potential danger, the United States is becoming more than ever required to think multiple steps ahead of its competitors and rivals. From a political standpoint, it is necessary to constantly be adaptable, flexible and most importantly, prepared for the unexpected to occur. This mindset and philosophy is transferable to many sectors such as business, law, trade, but most importantly it is a foundational block for the single most critical component of U.S. global stability – defense.
In order to accomplish this goal of being “ahead of the game”, the U.S. must prepare, educate, train, and equip a generation of leaders and servants that are poised and ready to not only take this country to higher levels, but able to do so in an ever-shifting international environment. With a global presence that spans to most if not all corners of the earth, the U.S. must remain vigilant in its international endeavors. From political challenges, cultural obstacles and most importantly security, the U.S. and its public servants must be the most aware and best-fitted tools for the gamut of tasks required of them.
It is because of this unquestionably critical need for our nation’s success that generations of bright and ambitious leaders are required to keep our country afloat. However, the most important tool in the toolbox of these leadership traits is not money, it isn’t raw force, nor is it even political cunning; but rather, the strongest and most effective tool is language.
All humans are unique in their own way, from personality traits to preferences, actions, character and many other factors. However, despite these differences, humans can be easily categorized by unifying factors that transcend these aforementioned aspects. Language unites groups of people that may not have much else in common. By realizing this link and connection, the power of language can be used not only to communicate and see into the minds of others around the globe, but to identify patterns, trends, and unlock deeper understandings of things that would not be possible without the linguistic key. For the U.S. and its policy makers and public servants, the ability to communicate with other people from around the world is a vital skill that allows us to have strong bonds with allied nations, create deals and understand our rivals better. However, all in all, this linguistic ability to understand another culture, group of people, and general cross-cultural competency is the single most vital tool we can possess in this day and age.
As far as I am concerned as an individual and small piece of plankton in a massive ocean that is the world, language has enabled me to see more than just my little area of water. Having always been fascinated by Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan as countries in my childhood, I figured it would only be appropriate to study the language spoken in these countries. Therefore, in 2018, I finally had the privilege of studying Persian at Indiana University and fell in love with the language and every single tidbit of information I gained from it that would otherwise be impossible. It was almost as if it were an addiction of some sort. The next spring semester, I decided to take my Persian knowledge to the next level of proficiency and applied to do a study abroad program in the only country available for Persian language students wishing to go abroad – Tajikistan. I departed for Dushanbe, Tajikistan in January of 2019 with a rudimentary knowledge of Persian obtained after 8 weeks at Indiana University and a strong desire to be immersed and to learn. I arrived to Tajikistan and was immediately linguistically challenged in ways that I had previously never even considered. Words and phrases that I never even thought of while in a sterile and orderly classroom in the U.S. were suddenly being expected of me in this raw, and unfiltered natural habitat where the language was spoken truly in its wild form. This difference between classroom and realistic usage of the language was the starkest difference that was instantly noticed by me when I began my program and immediately caused me to shift my attention to gaining the language proficiency needed to survive in my new environment. Because of this, my previous study habits, segments of the language I found interesting as well as general mindset of learning completely changed in order to adapt to this new and much more demanding environment. I was forced to learn words I didn’t even think of in English, let alone Persian. Phrases, cultural sayings, customs, courtesies as well as overall patterns of behavior were all unique lessons that were not able to be found in my textbooks back in the U.S.
Day after day and week after week, my language skills increased exponentially by living in this concentrated and relentless environment. Despite the fact that at the moment there were times where I felt as if I was making no progress or was even losing skills, my language acquisition continued on a very positive upwards slope. By the time I was done with my one semester study abroad program, I had learned so much Persian in only 14 weeks that I skipped the entire Intermediate category on the ACTFL/ILR OPI grading scale and went from Beginner High to Advanced Low. Was this even possible? Was it possible to learn this much Persian in a time span of 22 weeks? It truly was possible, and it was only doable due to the invaluable experience that I gained from going abroad during my last spring semester.
I am currently finishing yet another intensive Persian language program at the University of Maryland and have been inspired by my previous language programs and most notably by my study abroad immersive experience in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. As I stated earlier, these skills that are obtained by extended and intensive language study in the natural habitat of that language are skills that are impossible to be obtained in classrooms here in the U.S. that can only simulate that reality. If the U.S. wants to retain its global presence and its political status, it has never before been as important that we have a solid and well-developed cohort of leaders and servants that are linguistically equipped to deal with complex cross-cultural challenges that will truly test our nation.
Due to my experience abroad and my desire to actually, truly learn a foreign language, I was able to use every available resource at my disposal to satisfy this academic and personal goal. From my time spent in these intensive language programs I have not only obtained an invaluable skill that will forever impact my life but have become a more well-rounded individual that can now offer even more to the U.S. and its international objectives and endeavors.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.