L-R: Jon Phoenix, Emily Cousins and Jeanelle Sears.

Out of the 14 students nationwide chosen as Critical Language Scholars to study Bangla in Kolkata, India, three are from UofL. 

Jeanelle Sears, Emily Cousins and Jon Phoenix, UofL graduate students, are heading to Kolkata, India, this summer as Critical Language Scholars, a prominent award funded by the U.S. State Department to expand the number of Americans proficient in languages deemed to be “critical” to U.S. interest.

How did that happen? Did they already know each other? Did a faculty member encourage the students to apply for the scholarship? Do any of the students already speak Bangla?

No, no and no.

When asked how it happened that three UofL students were selected for the Bangla language program in Kolkata, CLS Indic Language Programs Officer Rhea Vance-Cheng said, “I had the exact same question. It’s definitely rare to have three students from one university at the same site.”

Sears, Cousins and Phoenix say they are just as befuddled. Phoenix speculated that the anomaly was a “super-insane coincidence,” while Sears thought having multiple Cards in the Kolkata program was “wild.”

The trio does share some similarities: all are interested in learning Bengali to expand their opportunities for research in areas such as sociology, environmentalism and writing studies. Sears and Phoenix are both sociologists from Knox County, Kentucky, while Cousins is an English studies student from Tokyo, Japan.

Once the CLS winners got over the surprise of learning that others from UofL were headed to India as part of the same program, they were all delighted.

“It’s very cool that I’ll actually be able to stay in touch with at least two other people in the program,” Phoenix said.

Sears added that having other Cards in the program offers “immediate affinity,” as well as the chance to support each other’s work once they return home.

Scholars will stay with host families in Kolkata and speak only Bengali for the duration of their stay (absolute beginners get a two-week grace period to get their skills up to snuff). The program includes daily instructional classes, extracurricular culture classes, weekly personal tutoring and occasional group excursions.