Since meeting on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Program in 2009, Joanna Mills and Laura Figueroa developed a unique bond over their shared passion for the Korean language and culture. Mills and Figueroa have participated in two study abroad programs in South Korea - NSLI-Y and the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program - both administered by American Councils for International Education and funded by the U.S. Department of State. They now plan to return to South Korea on their own initiative.
As high school students, Mills and Figueroa participated in NSLI-Y, a merit-based scholarship program, which enables high school students to study critical languages abroad including Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajik), Russian, and Turkish. Hailing from North Carolina and Florida respectively, Mills and Figueroa spent a year on this program studying Korean language and culture, living with host families, and exploring the Korean Peninsula.
From June to August 2011, the young women returned to South Korea as college students with the CLS Program. CLS is a fully-funded, intensive overseas summer language program for American graduate and undergraduate students. This advanced language training program is offered in thirteen different languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu.
More recently, Mills and Figueroa served as U.S. representatives to the "1st International Next Generation Global Leader Conference" in Suwon, South Korea. The five-day event gathered study abroad alumni from around the world to discuss science, literature, political science, and human rights.
Mills credited her reunion with Figueroa to "our similar interest and passions for global education. We keep seeking opportunities to travel [and participate on programs abroad]." She added, "None of this would have been possible if not for programs like NSLI-Y and CLS."
Figueroa is currently pursing a bachelor's degree in International Relations at Stanford University. Mills returned to Seoul to intern with YES International, an organization that arranges international youth exchange programs. She will continue her bachelor's degree in Music at North Carolina Central University in fall 2012.
Click here for more information about the NSLI-Y Program.
Click here for more information about the CLS Program.