By Ray Hanania
University of Illinois at Chicago sophomore Luana Davila of Joliet has been awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in Morocco this summer.
Davila, who is a classics major and Arabic minor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a member of the UIC Honors College, is one of approximately 550 competitively selected American students from over 230 U.S. colleges and universities who received the award this year.
The Critical Language Scholarship, which is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages, features a fully funded intensive language program that includes cultural enrichment experiences.
Beginning in June, she will study Arabic in Meknes, Morocco, for eight weeks through a program hosted by the Arab American Language Institute.
The program, which is the equivalent of one academic year of university-level study, features 16 hours per week spent learning Modern Standard Arabic, while four hours each week are spent on the local Maghrebi Arabic dialect, known as Darija.
Davila comes from a rich cultural background. Her father’s side of the family is Peruvian, and her mother is of Middle Eastern descent. She credits her mother with inspiring her interest in the Arabic language.
“I grew up listening to the music, eating the food and getting yelled at in Arabic — with love of course,” she said. “She always urged me to learn starting at a young age knowing that learning multiple languages would come in handy as I got older.”
Davila believes that immersion in Arabic language studies has allowed her to better connect with her family heritage and prepare for a career in cultural studies. She hopes to eventually become a curator at the Field Museum.
“The Field Museum has been one of my favorite places ever since I was a kid,” said Davila, a 2017 graduate of Joliet West High School. “I hope this experience will allow me to work more closely with the cultures that I am so fascinated with.”
She is the 23rd UIC student since 2007 to receive a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.
UIC’s Office of External Fellowships provides advising and assistance to current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants.