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Expanding their horizons

From left, HPA senior Noor Sarwar and HPA junior Alice Patig pose for a photo at the school’s upper campus. (PHOTO BY HPA FOR NHN)
From left, HPA senior Noor Sarwar and HPA junior Alice Patig pose for a photo at the school’s upper campus. (PHOTO BY HPA FOR NHN)

Phillip Cheng, teacher of Chinese Mandarin language at Hawaii Preparatory Academy was thrilled when two of his students were awarded National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarships this summer. Noor Sarwar, a senior at HPA, was granted a scholarship to study Arabic in Morocco, and Alice Pattig, an HPA junior, will go to China to learn Mandarin.

“I was very excited after telling the language class to apply,” said Cheng. “After Noor and Alice applied, I asked them about it every week.”

Pattig said after telling Cheng that she was awarded the scholarship to China, he actually started jumping up and down.

“In the first quarter of our language class, I had told them about the scholarship, and since Chinese is a ‘high-demand’ language, I really hoped that someone would go,” Cheng said.

Launched in 2006, the NSLI-Y is a federally funded program that “seeks to increase the number of Americans who can engage with native speakers of critical languages by providing formal instruction and informal language practice in an immersion environment.” Approximately 625 students per year are chosen to study abroad to learn Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian, or Turkish.

Sarwar, who is going to Morocco to live with a host family for six to seven weeks, will learn both reading and writing in Arabic.

“Everyday we will be learning in school. We will be getting a wider perspective and not just staying in our own safety and comfort of home,” Sarwar said.

Added Pattig, “The purpose is that we will represent our state and country and be ambassadors. China is an economical power, and this is one way we can make good connections.”

Pattig who is originally from Germany, said it is “fun” for her to visit new places. She said they will have language classes in the morning and excursions around China in the afternoons. All of their expenses are paid for, including visa expenses and commute charges.

Students were encouraged to turn in their applications by November, complete with essays on why they wanted to study language abroad, and the finalists were chosen in March. Of 2,500 applicants, 1,400 semi-finalists were interviewed, and the final 625 students were notified of their scholarships in April.

“We had one interview over the phone,” Sarwar explained. “And then a follow up interview. We’re so excited about this.”

Cheng said as a teacher, he is very proud of Sarwar and Pattig. Growing up in Lakeland, Florida, he has been taking trips to Asia since graduating from high school. Majoring in Chinese, and other Asian languages, (his family is Cambodian Chinese), he has been going abroad to study. The last two summers, he has arranged trips to Vietnam and China and escorted students from Pa’auilo, HPA and Oahu.

“I really hope more kids apply for this program,” Cheng said. “I’ll continue to find programs for them to participate in, as well as take our kids on cross-cultural exchanges.”

Sarwar said she will study the Arabic language seriously, and knows that this is not just a free vacation.

“I hope to keep a journal or write a blog if I take a computer,” Sarwar said. “And I hope more people take advantage of this next year.”

For more information on the scholarship program, visit