Crystal Maldonado

Crystal Maldonado

The desire to help others runs so deep for Crystal Maldonado ’21 that it is driving her to learn a fourth language — Swahili. Fortunately, she is getting support in the form of a Critical Language Scholarship.

Maldonado, who already speaks Spanish, French and English, spent a lot of her time outside of class volunteering pre-COVID-19, including at the Catherine McAuley Center. The women’s center provides educational services for immigrants and refugees, and Maldonado noticed many spoke Swahili.

“At the time, I was not aware of what the language was, but once I learned it was Swahili, I became determined to learn,” Maldonado said.

“As a daughter of an immigrant, I know how frustrating it can be to attempt to learn English and adapt to American culture,” she continued. “I am hoping with another language under my belt that I am able to be a greater asset in helping individuals communicate within our community.”

That empathy drove her to apply for the Critical Language Scholarship. Sponsored by the United States Department of State, the program funds students who want to study one of 15 critical need languages that are imperative to national security and economic prosperity. It’s a very competitive scholarship, with an acceptance rate of around 10%. Only about 600 students are awarded each year, and the scholarship covers all associated costs of the program.

The program itself is a summer immersion experience along with rigorous academic instruction. Typically, it involves travel abroad to native-speaking countries, but due to COVID-19 there will be no travel this year.

So Maldonado’s experience will be all virtual, beginning with orientation June 1 and live class sessions via Zoom lasting through July 30. She will be engaging with course material for four hours each day, with language partner sessions and cultural activities on top of that.

“I am looking forward to failing and getting back up to try again. I know this journey will not be easy, and I don’t expect to make excuses for myself,” Maldonado said.

Coe College Foreign Language Department Chair John Chaimov and Assistant Professor of Spanish Martha Torres Méndez provided integral support for Maldonado as she weighed whether to apply for the scholarship or not.

“I was dubious at first … without them, I never would have applied,” she said.

As for the future, expect Maldonado to remain dedicated to alleviating the anxiety non-native speakers endure daily. She might even learn a fifth — or sixth — language.

“I do want to assist or work in the field of refugee services. I absolutely love helping people and hope to learn more languages in the next few years to help teach English or other languages at no cost,” Maldonado said.