Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Grace Smith

State Dept Awards Scholarship to SMC Student

Sharon Nat to study Punjabi in India


SMC student Sharon Nat has been awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language (CLS) Scholarship to study the Punjabi language this summer in Chandigarh, India.

Santa Monica College (SMC) student Sharon Nat has been awarded a U.S. Department of State Critical Language (CLS) Scholarship to study Punjabi this summer in Chandigarh, India. She is one of 560 students selected from more than 200 colleges and universities across the nation for the all-expenses-paid linguistic and cultural immersion program, a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans mastering critical foreign languages.

CLS recipients like Nat will spend eight to ten weeks in one of 24 locations around the world studying languages including Arabic, Azerbaijani, Chinese, Korean, Swahili, Persian-and Punjabi. Nat is one of approximately 12 students from across the U.S. who will be studying Punjabi at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) Chandigarh Language Center.

Born to a Mexican-American mother and Punjabi-Indian father, Nat grew up learning how to speak, read, and write Punjabi. But her beloved father passed away when Nat was eleven, they moved away from their Indian relatives, and-as her own form of grieving, says Nat-she stopped speaking Punjabi.

Today, Nat is a Psychology major at SMC, and incoming Director of Sustainability for the SMC Associated Students. When the college's academic support Adelante program-which Nat is a part of-forwarded her an email about CLS, her friends at SMC encouraged her to overcome any apprehensions and apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I am thrilled to have the chance to relearn Punjabi," says Nat, who describes her proficiency as a beginner's. This opportunity, adds Nat, is important to her both academically and personally.

"I want to be a psychologist, to work with people who speak English, Punjabi and Spanish," says Nat. "I think that, as a psychologist, if I really want to understand what people are going through and earn their trust, I need to know the culture, and speak the language." Learning Punjabi will also fulfill her desire to be true to her own culture: both the Mexican and the Indian sides. "I have always regretted that I stopped speaking Punjabi. I'm ready now!"

During her two-month stay in Chandigarh in the Indian state of Punjab, Nat will also get to meet her relatives in India for the very first time.

Nat is grateful that at SMC, she has "learnt so much about herself."

"I learned here that I am an environmentalist, and learned how to take my love for people to the next level...this is where I had my first therapy session, and got my first job too!" says Nat, who is a part-time student worker at the SMC Latino Center. She hopes to transfer to Loyola Marymount University next fall.

Over the past ten years, the CLS Program has sent over 5,000 American undergraduate and graduate students overseas to learn critical languages all over the world. CLS Program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

The CLS Program in India is administered by American Councils for International Education in partnership with American Institute of Indian Studies. For further information about the CLS Program, please visit


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