For the past four years, Ivy Gerrell has made studying the Chinese language part of her high school and college coursework.
In fact, she opted to take a Chinese film class in the spring semester since the University of North Georgia Dahlonega campus (where she was dual enrolled) was not offering a double class.
“I would watch the film in Chinese and discuss them in Chinese,” Gerrell said.
Now, her developing conversational skills will come in handy this summer as the Gainesville native heads off to China to study the language for six weeks.
Gerrell is one of 600 students who has been awarded a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, according to a NSLI-Y news release. Launched in 2006, the program selects high school students who will immerse themselves in the culture in countries with “critical languages,” those not commonly taught in the United States. In addition to Chinese, the program offers opportunities in countries with languages such as Arabic, Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian and Turkish, according to the program’s website (www.nsliforyouth.org).
Gerrell will be living with a host family on China’s central coast in Shanghai. She will receive three hours of classroom instruction and two hours of tutorial practice five days a week.
“The purpose of the program is to enhance my efficiency and oral proficiency in Chinese,” Gerrell said. “And they will also work on my reading, writing and listening skills in Chinese as well.”
Following class, she will experience the Chinese environment through cultural activities as well as exploring the land during free time.
Gerrell is looking forward to the oversea trips, especially since she heard about the scholarship program as a freshman at Gainesville High School. She applied for the NSLI-Y program as a sophomore and gained semifinalist status, but didn’t make it into the final round. She applied again in her junior and senior years, finally earning entry this April.
Her mother, Renee Gerrell, served up a Chinese dinner before breaking the good news. She read the news about Ivy getting into the program via email to her and her daughter. But she knew her daughter would not see the email since she was at a lacrosse game.
“My husband (Ron) said ‘What can we do to surprise her?” Renee said.
Her mind immediately thought of buying her daughter’s favorite food, Chinese dumplings. Then she bought a gold-sequined banner to mark the occasion. The Gerrells’ neighbor, who helped Ivy with her essays, brought over a congratulatory cake.
Renee then presented her daughter with the acceptance letter, which caught Ivy off guard. The family wasn’t expecting to hear the news until the end of the month. And then the teen’s reaction shocked her and her mother.
“I started to cry,” she said. “I cried because I put a lot of effort into going and getting the scholarship, because I tried for so long.”
Ivy won’t have to wait much longer to see the Asian country. She will depart June 23 for Shanghai.
Ivy said she is looking forward to speaking with native Chinese “since there aren’t many native speaking Chinese in Gainesville and in Dahlonega.”
She plans to use her improved language skills to help her this fall at the University of Mississippi, which she chose since it has the top Chinese program in the U.S.
It is not a bad turn of events for a teenager who never intended on learning Chinese at first.
Ivy originally took Spanish as a middle-schooler, but feared she would not get into the Spanish class in high school. She thought about Latin class, but her mother suggested an alternative.
“I said ‘Why take Latin? It has no practical use unless you plan to be a doctor or lawyer,’” Renee said. “Then I told her Chinese is going to be a high-demand language.”
Ivy agreed. She took it and “fell in love with it.”
Renee saw a couple of months later how much her daughter loved the language.
“She came home … and said ‘I can apply for scholarships to live in China for a summer,” Renee said.
Since then, Ivy has never looked back, making her mother and father swell with pride.