2 Sewickley Academy students to study in India this summer

Friday, June 22, 2018 | 12:06 PM


Luke Tyson has a knack for learning foreign languages: Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic and now Hindi.

At 16, Tyson knows “various degrees” of six to 10 languages, most of which he's learned on his own.

“I do it for the moments where everything comes together and clicks,” said Tyson, a rising junior at Sewickley Academy.

This summer, Tyson, of Sewickley, is headed to Indore, India, to study Hindi, after receiving a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He heads to New York City on June 27, then off to India on June 30. He will return to the U.S. on Aug. 18.

Tyson is one of two Sewickley Academy students to receive the scholarship this year.

Ella Zhou, a rising sophomore at Sewickley Academy, will study in Pune, India, where she is traveling with a different cohort of students than Tyson.

The Sewickley Academy students are two of 670 students from across the United States selected to study Arabic, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Indonesian or Russian overseas out of more than 3,300 applicants.

While in India, they will stay with host families and receive formal language instruction, as well as be immersed in the local culture.

Tyson has had an interest in foreign languages since he took Latin courses in elementary school while living in the Philadelphia area.

In sixth grade, he took French while living in Richmond, Virginia and something clicked.

His family “rendezvoused” to Paris for a four day trip and Tyson was able to speak the language he was learning in school to people in real life.

He started learning more languages on his own. For him, it came easy. He found patterns and connected with the languages.

“A lot of it does sort of happen in my bedroom, just talking to my computer,” he said with a laugh.

International conflicts often peak his interest and he wants to know more directly from the source.

So, he learns the language, then he can read the newspapers and learn about the international issues directly from the region where they're occurring.

“It's all about finding unique ways to stay engaged,” he said.

The Arab-Israeli conflict led him to start learning Arab. He even traveled to Morocco last summer through the Change Makers program through Rustic Pathways to study the language.

More recently, he began studying Catalan to learn more about Catalonia's fight for independence.

“I enjoy the way language, culture and politics align,” he said.

Last summer, while reading the Sewickley Herald, Tyson learned of the NSLI-Y program, when other local students were participating.

With his interest, he thought, “why not apply?”

He was accepted on March 2 — a date he won't forget. The first thing he did was call his mom. Both of his parents have been supportive throughout, he added.

Ever since, it's been “go, go, go.”

Tyson applied for a visa and took a required eight week pre-departure language course, through Rosetta Stone.

He's chatted with fellow students on social media about the trip, but he doesn't want to set any expectations. He just wants to take it all in, whatever the experience is like.

Michael-Ann Cerniglia, Sewickley Academy history department chair, said she wasn't surprised both Tyson and Zhou were accepted into the program.

Tyson, she said, is “really enthusiastic about learning.

“He loves to learning about other places and other cultures,” she said, adding that he's empathetic and takes a lot of global courses. “He has always had an eye for going beyond his border and doing things for others.”

Zhou is an “excellent student,” and it also it not surprising that she was accepted in the program, Cerniglia said.

Aside from learning the language, Tyson said, he's most excited to see what life is like in a culture where “religious pluralism thrives.”

The goals of the NSLI-Y program, a multi-agency U.S. government initiative launched in 2006 to improve American's ability to community in select critical languages, includes enhancing cross-cultural understanding and developing skills to advance international dialogue.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.