Washington University graduate student to study Persian in Tajkistan

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Hannah Highfill, a master’s degree student in Islamic studies in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has received a 2011 U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Persian in Tajikistan this summer.

Highfill is among approximately 575 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students from more than 5,200 applicants selected to receive a CLS scholarship to study either Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish or Urdu languages.

She will spend eight weeks in an intensive language institute in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The CLS program provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences.

Highfill earned a bachelor of arts in international studies, with a focus in Asia, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. She graduated with highest honors for her thesis, titled “Beyond the Mosque: Religious practice, gender, and space in a Sufi group in Istanbul.”

Highfill studied in Paris at the Sorbonne this past spring semester with an exchange program organized by John R. Bowen, PhD, the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences. Her research in Paris focused on Sufi groups, or Muslim communities that practice a mystical form of Islam. These groups, called tariqat, are found throughout the world.

She has studied similar groups in Turkey, and plans to continue this research in Tajikistan, conducting ethnographic research by spending time with the groups and attending ceremonies such as Zikr, the traditional Sufi “remembrance of God.”

She hopes to continue studying the Sufi brotherhoods in Tajikistan, where there are local branches of several groups she worked with in Paris.

Highfill has long held an interest in studying other cultures and languages. This will be the second time she has participated in the CLS program. She studied Iranian Farsi in Tajikistan as a Critical Language Scholar for seven weeks in summer 2010.

She also served as a Critical Language Scholarship Alumni Ambassador throughout the past year. Highfill was a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow in Istanbul and Cyprus in 2008 and 2009, and was a summer intern with the U.S. Department of State in Thailand in 2007. She has studied Turkish, French, Mandarin and Farsi.

CLS program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

Representing all 50 states, students from a range of academic disciplines and U.S. colleges and universities were selected for the scholarships through a merit-based selection process.

The U.S. Department of State launched the Critical Language Scholarships for Intensive Summer Institutes in 2006 to increase opportunities for American students to study critical-need languages overseas. The program is part of a wider U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical languages.

CLS program participants are among the more than 40,000 academic and professional exchange program participants supported annually by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to promote mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the American Councils for International Education administer the CLS program.

For more information about the CLS program or other exchange programs offered by the ECA, visit clscholarship.org or exchanges.state.gov.