Engineering student to study in Turkey on Critical Language Scholarship

Released on 04/13/2011, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., April 13th, 2011 —

Walter Bircher of Omaha, a freshman mechanical engineering major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will spend the summer studying in Bursa, Turkey, on a Critical Language Scholarship.

The Critical Language Scholarship Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, funds seven to 10 weeks of intensive study in 13 critical-need foreign languages.

An honors student, Bircher will spend 10 weeks studying Turkish at TOMER Language Institute and has already spent time studying in Turkey. The summer following his high school graduation he traveled to Ankara on a National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarship, also issued by the U.S. Department of State. When Bircher applied for his National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, he selected "random country" and was assigned to Turkey.

Bircher learned first-hand about Turkey's "beautiful culture." He studied Turkish grammar and experienced Turkish culture. He woke to the sounds of an Imam's prayer and ate a breakfast of only raw vegetables. He watched Turkish news and tried out his Turkish-speaking skills on street vendors.

"Turkey is fantastic, and I can't wait to go back," he said.

Paul Savory, associate professor of industrial and management systems engineering, said Bircher's second trip to Turkey will let him jump into the culture without any culture shock.

"He will be able to really learn the language and the culture and that will just help him grow," Savory said. Savory, who teaches one of Bircher's engineering classes, said Bircher will share his experiences when he gets back to UNL, to the benefit of his classmates.

"Not only is it going to enhance Walter, it's going to enhance our campus environment," Savory said.

After he gets back from his 10-week trip in mid-August, Bircher will only have a month in Nebraska before he leaves to return to Turkey for the third time for a semester-long study-abroad trip. He will study Turkish, physics, music and history at Bogazici University in Istanbul through UNL's Department of International Affairs.

Bircher said his experience abroad has translated into career interests that involve both engineering and Turkish.

"My interest (in Turkey) is fueled by the thought of an exciting career in the intelligence community," he said.

The Critical Language Scholarship program provides intensive, group-based language instruction for U.S. citizen undergraduate, master's and Ph.D. students. The program is designed to encourage American students to study critical-need foreign language scholarships. The critical languages include Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Program participants are expected to extend their study of their critical language after they study abroad. Participants are expected to use their critical language skills in their professional careers.

WRITER: Christine Scalora, University Communications