Conway resident and 2018 Coastal Carolina University graduate Hannah Hamelman will be using a prestigious scholarship she just received to further her studies in Russian and Georgian culture to possibly one day serve as a U.S. diplomat.
Hamelman, a history major with minors in political science and in languages and intercultural studies, focused on Soviet/Russian history at CCU.
She studied abroad in Kazakhstan for the Spring 2018 semester and participated in a conference at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia, the following summer.
Now thanks to the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program, she will be spending this summer back in Tbilisi, immersing herself in the language and culture.
The CLS program is a highly-competitive, intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program for American students, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. CLS plays an important role in preparing students for the 21st century’s globalized workforce and increasing national competitiveness.
Hamelman was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and was adopted at 8-months-old by her parents. She’s lived her whole life in Conway, raised by her dad since the age of 9 after her mother had to leave the state due to health problems.
She said her father and relatives raised her with a global mindset -- to appreciate the world.
“Beginning at an early age, I was given an introduction to various foods, music, literature, art and global cultures and religions. As a child I was intrigued and heavily focused on one region until my father proposed new interests in another region of the world,” Hamelman said.
After she enrolled at CCU, she studied Western Europe, Latin America, East Asia and India, but her Introduction to Russian Culture class “caught” her.
“I became engrossed in its culture because it has a grave history to which I admire with eyes and mind wide open. It is a tragedy, yet beautiful in said faults.
“Each aspect of its culture, traditions and character connects to a piece of its past…I wish to learn the country’s language to better understand its people and revert the stereotypes my generation (and above) has heavily developed…about Russia and the former republics,” Hamelman said.
She was ecstatic to receive her scholarship, and only briefly disappointed to not be placed in Russia, but in the close-by Georgia.
After recalling her summer there in 2018, she said she was ecstatic to return and give it her proper attention for two months, learning Russian at a more advanced level.
The program is very difficult, she said, so much so that they discourage family visitors during her time in Georgia, but she said the benefits and results far outweigh the challenges.
With her new knowledge of Russian, she hopes to eventually become an analyst or consult, possibly a U.S. diplomat that specializes in Russian culture, politics and relations.
Right now, Hamelman is living in Tajikistan to further develop her Russian before the CLS program begins.
Her family was very happy for her, she said.
“My family’s feelings about this included anxiety, curiosity, worry, apprehension, excitement, pride and ‘Why Tajikistan and how do you spell it?’” Hamelman said.
CLS awardees are fully funded to participate in intensive overseas language and cultural immersion programs in one of 15 designated critical languages, according to Gary Schmidt, professor and chair of CCU’s Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies that offers courses in three of the designated languages: Arabic, Chinese and Russian.
“Hannah is CCU’s first award recipient of the Critical Languages Scholarship. Her experience is a great example of how CCU is focused on developing students with a global perspective,” said Darla Domke-Damonte, associate provost for global initiatives. “We celebrate her commitment to learning that promoted a successful application and the dedication of her mentors who have supported her in the process.”
She said she thinks it is important to learn more about other cultures, and it seems like nowadays students don’t have the opportunity to become immersed in another culture and language until later in their education.
“Look up from your life and peer over to another country. It’s amazing what you can find for yourself emotionally and mentally,” Hamelman said.
Hamelman will who live with a host family in Tbilisi for 10 weeks from early June to early August 2019.