URI students, faculty member win grants to study foreign languages abroad

KINGSTON, R.I. –  June 9, 2022 – A record 28 University of Rhode Island students and one faculty member have been named Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellows, collectively receiving more than $330,000 in grants to pursue foreign language immersion.

One of those students, Pawtucket resident Julia Al-Amir, was awarded $8,820 to fund her study abroad at the Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman, Jordan. A rising senior, she is double majoring in Arabic and human development and family science with a minor in leadership studies.

“I have always enjoyed working with people and learning about different leadership styles,” she said. “I came into URI through our Talent Development program and felt at home as soon as my TD summer began.”

Al-Amir, whose family is Syrian, grew up in a home where Arabic was always spoken. In college, she wanted to further develop her Arabic language skills and focus on areas that she wasn’t as familiar with, such as reading and writing.

“Ever since I was young, my Arab culture has been the most rewarding and unique social identity about myself. However, I find myself coming to roadblocks at times since I am not fluent in Arabic as I have spent all of my life in the United States,” she said. “I feel as though I am usually stuck between two different worlds – being Arab and being American.”

In Jordan, Al-Amir will be immersed in Arab culture and hopes to come back feeling more comfortable with all aspects of the language, including speaking, reading, writing and understanding. It’ll be her first time visiting the Middle East, and she’s looking forward to being able to spend time in Jordan.

“Spending time in Amman will connect me to my roots even more, and help me understand topics and such that I might not fully understand currently.”

Al-Amir expressed her gratitude to URI for helping her on the journey that led her here.

“I am very grateful and honored to be given the opportunity and assistance I needed from both Demers and URI to help me accomplish my goal in studying abroad in an Arabic speaking country,” she said. “I can’t wait to share my experiences and memories from Jordan once I get back to the states!”

Al-Amir joins 27 other students who will be studying in Japan, Singapore, Italy, Taiwan, Germany, France, and Spain, including Chinese Flagship student Leon Hartley.

Hartley, originally from Burlington, Connecticut, was first introduced to the Chinese language in high school. His high school hosted Chinese exchange students. “It was pretty cool, just getting to grow alongside them and immerse myself a little bit [at the] surface level [with] the culture,” he said.

In ninth grade, he took his first Chinese class, after his parents pointed out that it was a good business language. He wound up enjoying it, and was inspired by his teacher to continue learning the language.

“That’s the sole reason I came to URI was because of the (Chinese) Flagship (Program),” he said, “and I’m happy I did, because I’m here where I am today.”

Hartley, a computer science and Mandarin Chinese double major, will spend the entirety of the 2022-2023 academic year – his senior year – in Taiwan at the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. In the first semester, he will take classes in the Chinese language about professional use and at least one direct enrolled class with URI to help prepare for the internship he’ll be doing in the second semester, which will be determined once the academic year begins.

“I’m hoping to use this program to learn more about the culture, so I can become a more well-rounded person and understand more about foreign cultures,” he said, “[and] at the same time I’m hoping to meet a lot of good people and learn more about the Chinese language.”

Hartley, a rising senior, said that he is honored to have been awarded this fellowship.

“It means a lot,” he said, “it means that the foundation trusted me enough to support me financially so that I can go abroad and achieve the goals that I’ve been working toward for so long. It’s an honor.”

The fund is managed by the Rhode Island Foundation, which also administers the application and selection process. It is named for longtime URI Professor Beatrice Demers, who left $4 million to the Rhode Island Foundation upon her death in 2007 to ensure that her passion for foreign languages lived on.

The program  is open to all Rhode Island residents, not just students. Non-resident students who attend a Rhode Island college or university are also eligible. Preference is given to URI applicants including alumni, faculty, staff and current students who share a passion for and commitment to language learning. Since its inception in 2011, more than $2.5 million has been awarded to URI-affiliated applicants. Interested students should contact the Office of National Fellowships & Academic Opportunities for guidance.

The other Demers recipients and the languages they are studying are: 

Rhode Island

  • Samantha Adams, majoring in physics and German, of Exeter (German); 
  • Temitope Aina, majoring in biomedical engineering and French, of Providence (French); 
  • Joshua Benros, majoring in German and mechanical engineering, of Hopkinton (German); 
  • Alek Boving, majoring in ocean engineering and German, of Hope Valley (German); 
  • Daniel Bradley, majoring in computer engineering and French, of Cumberland (French); 
  • Wilmer Chinchilla, majoring in electrical engineering and global language and area studies on the Japanese track, of Johnston (Japanese); 
  • Dreydan Cianci, majoring in criminology, sociology and French, of Richmond (French); 
  • Conrad Du, majoring in Chinese and chemistry, of Scituate (Chinese); 
  • Shakiah Faris, majoring in human development and family studies and early childhood education, of Providence (Arabic); 
  • Suzelle Glickman, majoring in international studies and diplomacy and Chinese, of South Kingstown (Chinese); 
  • Isaiah Kittel, majoring in supply chain management and Chinese, of Portsmouth (Chinese); 
  • Korali Kouadio, majoring in computer engineering and Japanese, of Riverside (Japanese); 
  • Sofia Lanzi, majoring in mechanical engineering and French, of Cranston (French); 
  • Sokpearoun Lorn, majoring in computer engineering and global language and area studies on the Japanese track, of North Providence (Japanese); 
  • Mccarthy Newton, majoring in mechanical engineering and German, of North Kingstown (German); 
  • Misty Shi, majoring in global business management and Chinese, of Providence (Chinese); 
  • Kevin Suggs, majoring in computer engineering and Japanese, of Pawtucket (Japanese); and
  • Associate Professor in the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies Rabia Hos of East Greenwich, who will be studying in Germany.

Out-of-state students

  • Tate Blazonis, majoring in biomedical engineering and Spanish, of Georgetown, Massachusetts (Spanish); 
  • Fiona Carrez, majoring in civil engineering and Spanish, of Boxborough, Massachusetts (Spanish); 
  • Katie Field, majoring in mechanical engineering and German, of Baltimore, Maryland (German); 
  • Victoria Johnson, majoring in nursing and Spanish, of Glastonbury, Connecticut;
  • Karina Lew, majoring in global business and Chinese, of Huntington Station, New York;  
  • Rhea Shetty, majoring in pharmaceutical science and French, of Niskayuna, New York (French); and
  • Erin Torgersen, majoring in Chinese and global business management, of Chester, New Jersey (Chinese).

Mary Lind, a graduate student who works in URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this release.