Kayla Nakeeb ’21, 2019 recipient of inaugural Critical Language Scholarships for Portuguese


I just returned from my summer studying Portuguese through the U.S Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS). CLS is a fully funded scholarship to intensively study a language in the classroom, live with a host family, and completely immerse yourself in your host city’s culture. My program was in Florianopolis, Brazil, the sixth largest city in Brazil and home to 46 beaches. In my time there, I visited Curitiba, Blumenau, Sao Paulo, Tuberao, and took a three-day camping trip in the south's mountainous wetlands. I also used my stipend to bring home 180lbs of children's books in Portuguese to start a community library in Framingham.  

CLS gave me the opportunity to study abroad (for free!), earn credits that I could transfer to Wellesley, access to a network of program alumni, and the space to learn so much about myself. While we are lucky to have Portuguese classes at Wellesley, the program allowed me to have authentic experiences using my language skills. I gained confidence speaking and reading, bettered my accent, and learned how much language enhances your experiences with people. There was no off-switch in my time there: learning happened ordering coffees, riding the bus, and binging Brazilian Netflix with my host mom. Many languages, like Portuguese, require you to have some level of previous study. After taking Intensive Elementary Portuguese, Intensive Intermediate Portuguese, Introduction to Lusophone studies, and an independent study about fiction in the Lusophone world with Professor Antonio Igrejas, I felt more than prepared. Other languages though have no requirements.  

The best advice I could give to anyone thinking about applying is: 1) apply, and 2) write authentically in your application! CLS does not have interviews or additional supplements to submit as you move through rounds. My program cohort included students across all majors, studying Portuguese for more reasons than I could have previously ever imagined. Whatever your reasons for wanting to study the language or visit the country are valid — don't count yourself out because you aren't majoring in International Relations.  I'm an English and Art History major! Spend time talking to your language professors, major advisors, and Wellesley support systems and putting in thorough work on the application itself. At the very least, you'll have completed meaningful reflection on your goals and will have essays you can easily transform into cover letters and study abroad applications.