Mia Venezia was supposed to spend her summer halfway across the world in Taiwan, improving her Chinese language skills and connecting with Chinese students and academics. But due to COVID-19, she is still at home in Frederick.
She is still learning and connecting though. She is constantly on Zoom calls attending classes and conversing with other students through a program called the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY).
The program is sponsored is by the US State Department and Venezia was chosen among 3,000 applicants to participate.
“The whole purpose of [the program] is for youth to go overseas and know what it’s like to live in other places and be able to learn the language and, as future workforce participants, be able to communicate successfully and promote peaceful relations,” she said.
The program focuses on regions or countries whose languages are not traditionally taught in US high schools such as Russian, Arabic, Indonesian, and Chinese languages like Mandarin.
Frederick County Public Schools offer high school classes in French, German, Spanish, the classical languages of Latin and Ancient Greek, and American Sign Language.
Venezia herself feels that the languages offered through FCPS are limited and plans to write a senior capstone paper focusing on the issues, addressed to FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban.
“Our language curriculum is very Euro-centric so I believe we need a bit of a change in that regard. If we could have Russian classes or Arabic or Chinese classes that would be fantastic and I think our student body would definitely benefit long-term,” Venezia said.
Through the State Department programs, high school students are chosen to spend a summer abroad participating in intense and immersive language classes.
Venezia said programs such as this are needed to help prepare the next generation to participate in global politics.
“We need people who can speak Russian...or Arabic...to help solve our current political affairs,” she said.
Venezia chose to study Chinese to continue a life-long love of the language. In elementary school, she began taking Chinese language classes that were offered through her school.
Eventually the classes were discontinued and she never got to finish. She instead turned to Spanish and has taken throughout middle school and her time at Frederick High School, but she never forgot her love for Chinese.
“Seeing a [Chinese] character to me was like ‘oh my gosh I don’t have to write it out...it’s just a character it’s just a picture in front of my face,’” she said.
After hearing about the State Department program through a friend, Venezia decided to apply.
“I thought what a perfect way to go abroad, see a different culture, truly live life in a different place, while furthering a language initiative and not giving up on Chinese,” she said.
Venezia, who is a rising senior at Frederick High, has always be intrigued by both languages and global affairs. She hopes to double major in economics and Chinese in college with focus in international supply chain economics and a possible double minor in Latin American Studies and Spanish.
Her dream job is to work for a coffee company.
“I would absolutely love...to be able to go to a country and really sit down with citizens and ask hey how do you feel about some company coming in and using your coffee,” she said. “Really digging into the supply chain of a commodity we all absolutely love. And really seeing what the human aspect of that is.”