Nicholas Thomason studied abroad with the VCU Globe in Japan program last summer. This year, he heads to India to study Hindi on a Critical Language Scholarship. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Thomason)

An aspiring foreign service officer heads to India on a Critical Language Scholarship

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For Nicholas Thomason, a career as a foreign service officer focusing on Indian affairs is the ultimate dream.

“I’ve always been interested in other cultures,” said Thomason, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This has made me want to learn about different countries systems of government and how they interact with the U.S. I want to be a part of the effort to peaceably connect with other nations around the world, so we can to work together to address social, environmental, economic and political issues.”

Thomason, who studies English and political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, will take an important step toward fulfilling that dream this summer when he travels to Jaipur, India, to study Hindi with support from a Critical Language Scholarship, an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program supported by the U.S. Department of State.

“I chose to apply to the India program because of some really close friendships that I’ve developed over the years,” said Thomason, a member of VCU Globe, a living-learning community that brings together students from around the world to live together in VCU’s West Grace North residence hall.

“I’ve become good friends with Indian students from Christ University in Bangalore, India, who are here studying in the School of Business,” he said. “It was really my exposure to Indian culture on such a personal level that made me want to learn more about it.”

Around the world

Nicholas Thomason is one of four VCU students and recent graduates who will study abroad this year with support from a Critical Language Scholarship. The others:

- Colleen Connolly (School of the Arts) will study Mandarin in China

- Siona Peterous (Political Science, College of Humanities and Sciences) will study Arabic in Morocco

- Zackaria Niazi (2017 graduate; Biology, College of Humanities and Sciences) will study Persian in Tajikistan

Thomason will participate in a language immersion program through the American Institute for Indian Studies and will live with a host family while abroad from June 12 to Aug. 15.

“This will be really intense language learning, so by the end of the eight weeks, I hope to have a strong level of conversational Hindi,” he said. “Also, living with a family will give me more opportunities to practice the language in an environment that I otherwise would not have.”

The Critical Language Scholarship program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. It provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers. Thomason is one of four VCU students and recent graduates who will study abroad this year with support from the scholarship.

“We are so proud of Nicholas’ accomplishment and that his experience in Globe has influenced this next step for him,” said Jill Blondin, Ph.D., director of VCU Globe. “We strive to make sure all of our students are aware of, and take advantage of opportunities like this.”

Thomason has been in Globe the past two years, and said the program has provided him with the unique opportunities he sought when he chose to come to VCU.

“I really wanted to connect with international students and make friends from different cultures while here,” he said. “In this program, I’ve been able to do that.”  

“I had no idea about the scholarship before joining Globe,” Thomason said. “There are lots of resources that the program offers and the advisers always let us know about opportunities like this.”

Applicants work with VCU’s National Scholarship Office to apply for the Critical Language Scholarship. The office supports VCU alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships. Interested students and alumni can contact VCU’s National Scholarship Office at or 804-828-6868.