Michael O’Connell ’24 Wins Critical Language Scholarship
The scholarship will support the history and Russian double major’s intensive language-immersion program in Tbilisi, Georgia this summer.
Michael O’Connell can trace his interest in Russian to his childhood neighbors, but he didn’t start studying the language until he arrived at Haverford two years ago. The sophomore has now declared a major in it (via the Bryn Mawr Department of Russian) alongside another major in history. This summer will mark an important step in his Russian language education, as he will spend it in Tbilisi, Georgia, on an immersion program thanks to a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS).
The CLS Program is a U.S. Department of State initiative to dramatically expand the number of Americans mastering 15 languages—from Arabic to Urdu—that are important for the country’s national security and economic prosperity. The summer study-abroad program includes intensive language and cultural immersion for eight to ten weeks and includes costs associated with travel, visas, language instruction, room and board, program-sponsored travel throughout the host country, and academic credit through Bryn Mawr College.
“I will be sharing a hotel room in Tbilisi with another scholarship recipient, taking Russian language classes everyday, and participating in various cultural activities,” said O’Connell. “Part of accepting the award involved agreeing to the program’s language policy, which requires participants to speak Russian in all classes, at scheduled events, and with a native speaker language partner. This is the challenge I’m most looking forward to.”
While in Georgia, he hopes to gain experiences that will add color to a class he’s taking in the fall with Professor Linda Gerstein, “Topics in Active History: Russian Empire, National Memories and Tales,” as well as perhaps stumble into inspiration for his eventual history thesis. He is also looking forward to honing his Russian-language pronunciation skills in an immersive environment. Though given current events, he has been conflicted about his decision to study Russian at all.
“Honestly, I had mixed emotions when I received the scholarship, because the notice came right at the same time as the invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “In class we had a helpful discussion about studying Russian during the war. I realized that this scholarship will improve my Russian skills, which will help me understand the war and its impact.”