ATTN: Expat-terns no longer supports or will feature NSLI-Y or YES programming on the site as a result of their connection to the US State Department and militaristic, imperialist connotations.
Just kidding, NSLI-Y stands for National Security Language Initiative for Youth. It’s an annual set of merit-based scholarships given out by the US State Department. These full scholarships take teens around the globe in summer and year programs to some really remote locations like Oman, Tajikistan, and Taiwan. The goal is to teach youths critical languages that could later be used to help foreign relations between the US and other nations. These languages include Turkish, Persian (Tajik), Korean, Hindi and more. For this reason, NSLI-Y probably offers the most variable and uncommon linguistic scholarships for minors. NSLI-Y is a great program (I am told). I have never gone on one of their trips, but I have applied (twice) for the South Korea summer program.
NSLI-Y applications come out early in the fall. Every September, thousands of eager students wait anxiously to begin their essays, ask for teacher recommendations, and submit their photos to paint a picture of their life for the judging panel. To apply, one must be in good standing at school (GPA above 2.5 in a 4.0 scale), a US citizen, have no immediate family essentially working for this program, have not gone abroad with any other State Department sponsored exchange program (other than NSLI), and be between 15 and 18 years old. Additionally other programs, like i-EARN, AFS, and AMIDEAST, work in association with NSLI-Y for host family placement and the intense vetting process for applicants.
I can tell you from experience that the application is long, stressful, and draining. You’ll also find on Facebook for example, there are big groups of NSLI-Y participants. However, the NSLI-Y communities online can only help you so much. All of them are as nervous, enthusiastic, and language crazed as you, more in my case, much more. They offer support and “help”, but that can only aid one so far as in reality – they are the competition. Remember: this is a contest with finalists, semi finalists, and rejects.
After submitting your application by the beginning of November with about seven essays (if I remember correctly), a lot of Q&A, and a break down of your linguistic ability, NSLI-Y sends rejection and semi finalist emails in December. Usually, this falls around midterm exams, so if you apply, be prepared for a little extra stress this holiday season. Semi finalists move on to the interview stage. In this part of the process, students can more or less fight for their right to go abroad with NSLI-Y. Fun fact: last time I checked, AFS handles the interviews! After getting your health forms submitted by the early spring, they announce the finalists and alternates in the early summer. It’s a multi-season application process for some.
From what I understand, NSLI-Y is life changing. My sister went with the South Korea summer group one of the first years it was offered and had a blast. I guess that is what happens when like minded people come together especially when these people proudly proclaim they are language nerds and then continue their conservation about the beauty of the Cyrillic alphabet. The online groups are … interesting, and you’ll meet a lot of fun people there. I am considering applying again, but honestly, I am tired. I don’t want to put myself in this situation again. For me this program has produced a lot of stress and no reward. I can learn languages without NSLI-Y; though, a free study abroad trip to Korea would be fabulous. If you are interested, follow the link below to the program’s main website. Though its popularity is increasing and the acceptance rate is dropping, it is at least worth looking into.No previous language requirements needed – Applicants of all language abilities encouraged to apply!
*The application is scheduled to be released in a week or two! Applications are due late October/early November, semi finalist emails are sent in December, and after interviews, finalist notifications are sent in early summer. If you are interested in learning unique, demanding languages: NSLI-Y might be your cup of tea. The process is stressful, but the reward is worth it. Follow the link above for much, much more information.