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BU Student Completes Critical Language Scholarship in Jordan

Eric Gelles
Major: Political science and Arabic
Hometown: New York City, Bronx

Article Written by: JC Wu, Class of 2017

The Critical Language Scholarship Program provides an opportunity for students to explore foreign cultures and strengthen their skills in a critical language. Eric Gelles, a previous Binghamton University student double majoring in Political Science and Arabic, participated in the program during the summer of 2015. He went to Jordan, where he immersed himself into the culture firsthand.


He once spoke upon a random news topic given to him at an extemporaneous speaking tournament. He once without preparation acted out ten minutes of a film prop-less on stage for a humorous acting competition. He once responded to a Facebook post looking for a 5' 9 or taller water polo goalie and had no idea how to play water polo when he joined. Although Eric prides himself in his spontaneous nature, foreign affairs is certainly not something he got into last minute.

Eric developed his interest in foreign affairs early on in high school. He was always up-to-date with current events. But it became apparent to him during the extemporaneous speaking tournament that he really wanted to study foreign affairs in college. Given a random question on a topic with which he had very little experience and knowledge, Eric needed to devise and present a speech on the subject during the tournament . He found this to be a challenging but exciting experience, which in turn gave rise to a strong interest in Political Science and Arabic.

During his freshman year at Binghamton University, Eric took some political science and Arabic classes. He cited Professor Lotfi Zekraoui, instructor of Arabic 101, as a mentor who "motivated [him] to do the best [he] could." Professor Zekraoui's inspiring lectures deepened Eric's interest in the Arabic language even further and when he sent out an e-mail about the Critical Language Program opportunity, Eric decided to apply.

Exploring other cultures was not a new concept to Eric. Besides growing up amongst the cultural diversity of New York City, he also traveled to China for four weeks in high school where he was exposed to a new country. Traveling with peers to Shanghai, Hanzhou, Nanjing and Beijing, he worked as a community service volunteer in these cities. Communication with the local people is inevitable yet challenging when faced with a language barrier. Eric found that the best way to get past this obstacle was "to get them to laugh." Since then, he has made several lasting friendships with the people he met there.

When asked where he wanted to go for his Critical Language Scholarship Program, Eric replied that he didn't "want to go to a safe place," rather, he wanted to see the unfiltered side of the Middle East. Considering his tremendous interest in the Arabic language since his first class at Binghamton, the Program gave him the opportunity to further explore the language and culture of Jordan. He felt ready to explore this part of the world because he had a basic understanding of Arabic and he had experienced immersion into new cultures before.

While many people like to stay in their comfort zone, Eric sought to break out of his and explore opportunities including the Critical Language Scholarship. His travels and extracurricular activities like competing in tournaments clearly reflect this ambition. With a better understanding of the Arabic language and a first-hand experience in the country of Jordan, Eric plans to further his studies so he can one day join the U.S. State Department as an analyst. His rich experience and knowledge of foreign cultures make him a good candidate to provide Americans with a better understanding of the Middle East.



Last Updated: 4/27/17