Exchange Matters / December 20, 2022

CLAPS: Foreign Language Learning for Underserved Youth

By Kristie Moore, Programs and Events Intern, Global Ties U.S. 

In the Spring of 2022, my friends and I learned about the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund (CDAF), a grants competition for U.S. exchange program alumni to carry out public service projects that make an impact. Inspired by our time abroad on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, Critical Language and Pronunciation for Students, also known as CLAPS, was born. 

CLAPS is a nine-week virtual language and culture learning program for underserved students that we implemented in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Beyond the Bell Program. Throughout the program, we introduced students to eight critical languages: Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish, with the help of professional language teachers and various exchange program alumni volunteers. During each session, students watched a short video before participating in a live volunteer-led activity to learn more about that week’s language and culture focus. Each week they tried something new, including Turkish coffee readings, Indian dance, and Indonesian Batik making. The program culminated in a final project where students created language booklets, reflecting on what they learned about each language and its respective countries and cultures.   

Volunteers lead a Batik making activity, showing students example designs before giving them a chance to create their own. All photos provided by CLAPS.

There were so many memorable moments during the implementation of the CLAPS program. One of my favorites was during the seventh week of the program when we focused on Persian language learning and culture. Despite having no experience with the language, I jumped at the opportunity to lead the session’s interactive activity. My activity focused on Central Asia more generally, as I was familiar with Kyrgyzstan, having studied there on the Critical Language Scholarship program. Before beginning, I pulled up a map and asked students if they could identify where Central Asia was; none of them could. I introduced them to Yurt building, Kyrgyz music, and other elements of Kyrgyz culture in my presentation. They were all so engaged: I could truly feel that they were learning something new, something they could share with others. 

Students learn about Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic lifestyle and Yurt construction.

Another favorite moment took place during our in-person closing ceremony, when the students reflected on their time during CLAPS and shared fun facts they learned throughout the nine weeks. Some highlighted religion in Indonesia, while others focused on traditional Korean food they had learned about during one of the sessions. Nearly every language was recognized in some form or another. It was clear that students took something away from the program. 

CLAPS Co-Founder Kelly guides students through the reflection activity.

Participating in CLAPS has been such a rewarding experience for all of us, and intrinsically linked to our time abroad. The four of us came together to work on this project because of our love of languages, and it has been such a meaningful opportunity to share this love with our students and expose them to languages, countries, and cultures that many of them knew little to nothing about before.  

Implementing CLAPS brought me back to the Summer of 2019 when I participated in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Russian program, and reminded me just how big of a role my exchange program experience has played in shaping my career interests. My first time abroad was in Moscow, Russia, on the NSLI-Y program. At the time, I had just turned 16 and had never been abroad before. Over the course of my sixweek program, I learned so much about myself and my passions and goals for the future. Being abroad and meeting so many new people showed me my interest in pursuing a path related to public diplomacy, international exchange, and global education. This interest was only reaffirmed upon participating in the Critical Language Scholarship program in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan this last summer.  

For anyone interested in applying for CDAF, I recommend just going for it! When my teammates and I applied, we felt we didn’t have the experience or qualifications necessary to implement a project on this scale. However, we quickly realized that while past experience can come in handy, it is by no means required. The only thing someone needs to have before pursuing an undertaking of this nature is a passion for the topic and a commitment to see the project through. 

CLAPS Teammates, Brooklyn, Kelly, and Kristie, with CLAPS students during the in-person closing ceremony.

While I don’t exactly know what my future holds, my participation in CLAPS has shown me how much I enjoy working in the area of global education and implementing projects that matter to me. It is my goal to continue this work and pursue a career in public diplomacy.