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Kelsey Paulding has never backed down from a challenge.
Growing up in a single-parent home, she naturally understood the need to be responsible. Now, she spends her free time studying for International Baccalaureate exams, a program offered at Skyline that requires three to four hours of studying each night.
"When Kelsey decides to do something, she does it," said her mother, Leeann Colgan. "She meets any challenge with perseverance and grace it so impresses me."
With summer vacation just around the corner, Paulding's efforts have earned her an incredible senior trip. She has been accepted into the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), a program formed by the U.S. Department of State to improve young Americans' understanding of cultures around the world. Paulding will spend six weeks in Hangzhou, China, at Zhejiang University, immersing herself in the language and culture. The trip will be her second to China she went with her Chinese class for spring break in 2012.
"It's an honor," Paulding said. "I love to travel, I love to have adventures I love to experience new things. I'm interested in pursuing the culture and pursuing a career in Chinese when I'm older."
Mark Neville, the Chinese instructor at Skyline, has witnessed every kind of student in his first year of teaching. Some try to coast through the difficult language. Others are fascinated by a new alphabet filled with complex characters. Paulding, he said, has flourished because of her personal drive.
"She took the initiative," Neville said. "She has studied hard and hired a personal tutor on her own. This opportunity was given to her because she has the heart for it. She understands it's a huge challenge."
The NSLI-Y was formed because of America's own challenges in a global economy. Most high-school students grew up with a knowledge of European languages – French, German or Spanish but were lacking skills in emerging markets.
Between 2006 and 2008, NSLI-Y offered Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin), but has since expanded the program to include Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish. By the end of last year's program, more than 2,500 students had been awarded scholarships.
Neville served his LDS mission in Taiwan and hosts field trips to the country.
"It expands their world view," Neville said. "Visiting foreign countries helps people prepare for and understand a global future. It's not just educational. It improves government and business relations as well."
Paulding feels it will be the first step into her own future, which includes a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah. She plans to get a double major in business and Chinese. Down the road, she is considering international law for her master's degree.
"Everything about China is fascinating to me," Paulding said. "I am intrigued by their cultural differences and attracted to the customs and traditions. I'm really excited for the opportunity."
At a glance
Skyline has one of the largest enrollments of Chinese-language students in the state. It allows Mark Neville to teach full time at the high school.
NSLI-Y offers seven language programs in 11 countries around the world.
The program is available to U.S. citizens ages 15-18. Previous language study is not a requirement, and students of all levels are encouraged to apply.