Sandy resident travels to Indonesia to learn language

Scholarship • U.S. State Department sponsors students to learn critical world languages.
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Monica Schwarz has never been farther from home, but may never have been closer to your family roots.

The Sandy resident and recent Tulane University graduate spent the summer in Indonesia as part of the U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship Program.

Schwarz studied Indonesian at the State University of Malang during the eight-week intensive language program, which is part of the U.S. government's effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages.

"It's a great program," Schwarz said. "I only found out about it about a month before the deadline. If I had know about it when I was a freshman, I would have done it earlier because you can do it multiple times."

Schwarz's mother is Indonesian, which made the decision of which of the 14 available countries a simple one.

"I actually studied abroad in Indonesia two years ago," said Schwarz, 22, who graduated from Intermountain Christian School in Holladay. "This was another way to increase my language proficiency. I really feel this program has helped me a lot."

As one of 29 students in the Indonesian program — and one of more than 600 undergraduate or graduate students participating this year — Schwarz studied 20 hours a week in the classroom.

She lived with a host family and toured the city with fellow students and University of Malang students on tutorial trips to learn more about the culture. On weekends, the group would travel to neighboring cities and participate in outdoor activities such as climbing Mt. Bromo, in East Java, Indonesia.

She said the goal of the program is to be able to use the language to communicate, not simply to conjugate verbs properly or score well on written tests.

In fact, the exam she took at the end of the course in July included an independent project and a phone interview.

Andrew McCullough, the Indonesian program officer from the American Councils for International Education, said students are tested before and after attending the program in order to measure success.

"Students in the Indonesian program have shown great gains," McCullough said. "The gain between levels in scores is more than what we see from a full year of studying in college."

CLS has sent more than 70 students to Indonesia since adding the language in 2009. The program began as part of a presidential initiative in 2006, and is the only fully funded course of its kind in the United States.

Among the 13 languages studied this year were Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Farsi, Russian and Turkish.

Schwarz, who earned a bachelor's of science in biochemistry from Tulane, plans to enroll in medical school and become a medical doctor. She said part of the reason she studied Indonesian was to get in touch with that community in the United States.

"I know that there is one," Schwarz said of the local Indonesian population. "I want to fuse my interests in Indonesia and the community living in America and my interests in medicine.

"Learning the language was important for me before going to med school because I know I won't have the time to dedicate to intensive language learning when I'm taking classes."

After the conclusion of the program, Schwarz stayed abroad to visit relatives on her mother's side in Blitar and Jarkarta and to travel in Bali.

She said the coolest part of the trip was traveling with her fellow students to the island of Sempu.

"It's this tiny island south of the city," Schwarz said. "We spent a night camping right on the beach. Probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I'd never done anything like that."

Twitter: @sltribSouth At a glance

Sandy's Monica Schwarz spent eight weeks this summer in Indonesia as part of the U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship Program.

CLS began in 2006 and sent U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to 26 sites around the world to study 13 languages.

Schwarz, whose mother is Indonesian, hopes to incorporate her new language skills with a profession as a medical doctor.