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Toledo teen starts passage to fluent Hindi in stay in India



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A Toledo teen will spend her summer in saris.

Kendra Dempster-Walsh, 16, embarked on her journey to India over the weekend. The recipient of a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, the incoming Notre Dame Academy junior is one of 20 high school students who will learn Hindi in a six-week or full-year immersion program.

The scholarship program is administered by American Councils for International Education, which promotes international education, academic exchange, and overseas language immersion. Launched in 2006 after former President George W. Bush introduced the National Security Language Initiative, the program teaches American high school students Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Persian, or Turkish.

“These languages were chosen because they are not commonly taught in the U.S. from kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Bart Pogue, program officer at American Councils for International Education. “In the wake of 9/​11, the government was interested in improving the competency of United States citizens in using critical languages that are not commonly taught in U.S. schools.”

To apply for the scholarship, students must be 15 to 18 years of age, have U.S. citizenship, be enrolled in high school at the time of application, and must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.50.

Marcia Dempster, Kendra’s mother, heard about the program at a meeting about Notre Dame Academy’s International Baccalaureate program. Thus began a three-month to four-month application process involving transcripts, teachers’ recommendations, phone interviews, and three themed essays.

“I had to redo [the essays] three times to get them perfect,” Kendra said.

She checked her email on March 22, only to find she was an “ambassador for India.” Of 3,200 applicants, Kendra had been one of 22 Ohio students and 625 nationwide who were accepted.

India was her first choice, while programs teaching Arabic and Persian were close seconds.

“My lack of knowledge about India and the thrill of the unknown intrigued me,” Kendra said. “[India has] one of the richest and oldest cultures in the world and being a part of it is an absolute honor.”

Held from June 29 to August 14, the program will begin with a three-day orientation at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. Then, she will be en route to Noida, India, a city just south of New Delhi.

She will take eight hours of weekday classes at Amity International School and will receive at least 120 hours of language instruction.

By the program’s end, Kendra is expected to become familiar with the Devanagari alphabet and have a basic understanding of Hindi grammar.

Having no prior knowledge of Hindi, Kendra will start at a beginner’s level. Her mother said Kendra has been listening to tapes and studying Hindi in the weeks before the trip.

“[Kendra]’s had seven years of German and three years of Latin, and nothing compares to Hindi,” Ms. Dempster said. “Hopefully she’ll be fluent when she comes home.”

When Kendra isn’t learning Hindi, she’ll be going on excursions with her host family, wearing traditional clothing, and going on at least two trips outside Noida, in which she’ll be expected to use the language. Prospective activities include riding an elephant, visiting the Taj Mahal, and teaching English in an impoverished girls’ school, Kendra said.

The scholarship covers airfare, lodging, language instruction, meals, and cultural activities. Scholars are responsible only for their passports, pretravel medical expenses, and souvenirs, Mr. Pogue said.

The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs awards grants to implement the scholarship program. Susan Pittman, director of media relations at the U.S. Department of State, said the department provided $9 million to accommodate this year’s scholars.

Kendra is most excited to be living with her host family, and already has contacted her 13-year-old host sister, Sheel.

When she gets back home, she’ll focus on her 4.0 GPA, deliver arguments on the debate team, and work on the stage crew for Shrek the Musical. Kendra is also an aspiring member of Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization that provides medical assistance in more than 60 countries.

Though she’s looking at local universities such as Ohio State and University of Michigan, Kendra hopes to travel through Europe and Africa.

Applications for 2014-2015 NSLI-Y programs are expected to be available next fall at

Contact Rosa Nguyen at: or 419-724-6050.

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