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Critical Languages, Essential Experiences

Austen Dowell '17 soaks in the local culture in Azerbaijan. Photo courtesy of Dowell.

Austen Dowell '17 soaks in the local culture in Azerbaijan. Photo courtesy of Dowell.

2017 grad earns U.S. Department of State scholarship to study Turkish abroad

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

A recent grad recently returned from intensive cultural and language instruction in Azerbaijan as an awardee of the 2017 U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). Austen Dowell ’17 spent eight weeks in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, as one of only 29 Americans to learn Turkish through the federally funded program this past summer.

Dowell lived with Turkish-speaking families and enrolled in courses at Azerbaijan University of Languages (AUL). In between classroom work, he met with local peers and participated in cultural excursions and other enrichment activities designed to support and enhance his competency in Turkish, a language less commonly taught in U.S. schools but essential for America’s engagement with the world, contributing to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.  

The CLS instruction is part of a growing portfolio of deep intercultural experiences and work for Dowell, a Seattle native who double-majored in international studies and Russian and attended Dickinson with assistance through the John Dickinson and George W. Barnitz and Marie Niesley Barnitz Memorial Scholarships.

As student, Dowell studied abroad for two semesters in Russia, which included an internship with Moscow’s PIR Center and a semester in Kyrgyzstan. During his time abroad, he conducted original research supported by Dickinson's Student International Research Fund (SIRF), a small-grant program that helps students dig deeper into their host cultures by conducting original research abroad, the Geldrich/Leffman Fund, another Dickinson award that focuses on foreign-language majors with a passion for literature, and the Boren Scholarship, an initiative of the National Security Education Program.

Back on campus, Dowell continued his work as a peer tutor in Russian language and participated in the Crisis in the South China Sea program, which teamed Dickinson students up with students from five other colleges, plus students from the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, West Point and the Virginia Military Institute, to explore governmental and military responses to potential conflict in the region. He says he enjoyed building on these educational experiences through the CLS program, which included a trip to the Caucasus region, the highlight of his summer abroad.

“It was wonderful to be able to use the intercultural skills I gained while studying abroad through Dickinson while also starting a new language from scratch,” says Dowell, who’s applying to a graduate program in Eurasian regional studies and seeking employment in national security. “Being able to speak Turkish has really opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.”


Published October 23, 2017