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Global studies major heads to Jordan on language scholarship

Melanie Figueroa-Zavala stands near in a garden in Santiago, Chile.
Melanie Figueroa-Zavala is a critical language scholarship recipient who will study Arabic in Amman, Jordan.

Melanie Figueroa-Zavala is the latest Boise State student to receive a critical language scholarship, part of a U.S. government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying foreign languages that are vital to national security and economic prosperity. She was one of 500 undergraduate and graduate students selected this year out of 5,000 applicants from 247 U.S. universities.

Figueroa-Zavala, majoring in global and interdisciplinary studies, with environmental studies and critical theory minors, as well as Spanish and Arabic certificates, will study Arabic in Amman, Jordan, from June to August. The program is hosted by the Jordan Language Academy, a private institution that teaches Arabic language and culture to promote international and intercultural understanding. Figueroa-Zavala and her cohort will broaden their linguistic knowledge of Arabic while learning about Jordanian culture and contemporary issues in the region.

Her career aspirations include equitable policymaking as a community advocate and policy analyst, focusing on immigrant, refugee and Latine communities.

“I understand the American immigrant experience because 10 years ago, I set foot on U.S. soil for the first time,” she said. “As I walked down the border bridge and looked back to the country that raised me, I took a leap of faith for a better life without having awareness of the sacrifices, the struggle and the immense growth this new life would require of me.”

Figueroa-Zavala received support from the Fellowship Advising Office within Boise State’s Honors College. She was a Truman scholarship finalist, a Gilman scholar, the vice president of the inclusive excellence student council and a peer mentor for TRIO. She also volunteers Spanish translation services for healthcare accessibility and previously served in English classrooms while studying abroad in Santiago, Chile.

During the program, Figueroa-Zavala will complete 15 hours a week of instruction in Modern Standard Arabic and the Jordanian dialect, and will cover the equivalent of one academic year of college-level Arabic in just eight weeks. She’ll live with a host family to fully integrate herself in the Jordanian culture.

“Arabic has connected me with many people so different yet so similar to myself. It has been a gift that allows me to feel with others in their struggles and aspirations – increasing my empathy and increasing my understanding. I hope to continue fostering this understanding because to understand is to build empathy, and working to understand is working for a better world,” she said.