BU Student Completes Critical Language Scholarship in Punjab, India
Recipient: Kevin Acker
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Class of 2015
Article Written by: Christina Huang, Class of 2016
Kevin Acker, a senior at Binghamton University, was the recipient of a summer 2014 Critical Language Scholarship. The scholarship program provided him with a chance to spend seven weeks this past summer in Punjab, India, where he received intensive language instruction and cultural enrichment experiences.
Kevin gained a passion for language and culture as a result of many experiences throughout high school and college. His first study abroad experience was a two week program in China between high school and freshman year of college. He enjoyed the program so much that he became determined to study East Asian studies, specifically Chinese studies. He was drawn to the Chinese written language because "its characters are beautiful and different. It's a totally different way of thinking of language, as pictures instead of alphabets."
In the fall of his Junior year, Kevin went on the Binghamton University exchange program to Suzhou, China. There, he resided at an international student dorm with many exchange students of various ethnicities: French, English, Palestinian, and Japanese, who opened his perspective on the "range of human experiences." While in China, he received emails about the Critical Language Scholarship, and decided to apply. This time his destination of choice was Punjab, India.
Kevin's interest in India first arose when he attended a concert at the University of Buffalo with his father, an Associate Professor of Chinese at the university. The cultural event was Kevin's first exposure to Bhangra, a type of folk music and dance from Punjab, India. When he heard the music, he was instantly captivated. Bhangra had a unique timbre, a certain character to its musical sound, that was "bright, lively, specific and 'masterful.'" He felt a connection with the music which lead him to join the Bhangra club at Binghamton University. As a freshman, he began as a team dancer. He has since improved his dance skills and competed in and won competitions, and is now the president of the club.
Kevin describes Punjab, India as unlike any of his prior experiences abroad. Punjab was very "hot, eye-opening and culturally prideful." The state is a breadbasket for India with a flat geography perfect for farming. The heat there was so oppressive that three big water bottles a day was not enough to hydrate. Kevin really came to understand the meaning of hot weather through Punjab. The physical landscape of the city of Chancligash where Kevin lived with his host family was also eye-opening. Chacligash was a not an organic city, it was planned by the Indian government with sectored towns containing its own market and housing. Kevin was taken aback by how different the physical context was from what he was used to.
Kevin also noted how culturally proud Punjabi residents are of their ethnic roots. This was seen through citizens' clothing. Everyone wore traditional clothing made of hand-dyed weaves and fibers. Punjabi residents were also unified through their music. Bhangra music and dance in Punjab was orchestrated with live instruments in everyday surroundings.
Kevin expressed that the language instructions in Punjab made the experience challenging. "The Punjabi language was a folk language, it wasn't standardized," and there was no set textbook for class. Citizens from city to city used different pronunciations which made it difficult to speak to local residents. Communication was made a bit easier with conversation role plays in class which served as practice. Kevin recalls one dialogue with his speaking partner about negotiations on the price of produce. He later employed what he learned from the classroom in real life interactions at marketplaces. For class, Kevin also practiced writing Punjabi through regular class assignments. Through these written homeworks, Kevin practiced vocabulary and grammar and by the end of the summer, he achieved basic fluency in the language.
Alongside the language instruction, Kevin speaks of his favorite experience in Punjab: hiking the Himalaya Mountains. On an extended weekend soon after he arrived, Kevin and his fellow classmates took the trip. This world famous mountain surely had some arduous trials. At a particular height, "the weather instantly became cooler, it was so nice to sit there and just look out to the mountains."
Kevin's future plans include various options. One possibility is to use his Chinese language background to do translational work, another is to return to China to teach English. He is also considering the possibility of obtaining a PhD in Chinese studies and working in academia or for a non-government organization. Whatever his profession may be, Kevin hopes to continue to explore different cultures. He advises prospective students applying to the Critical Language scholarship to "connect with your country of choice and show application readers you want it and you can adjust to the country when you go."