For high school students, summer is synonymous with sleeping in late and hanging out with friends even later, right? Not necessarily. Three Friends Upper School students will spend much of their summer break immersed in the languages and culture of Russia and Tajikistan.

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) awarded full merit-based scholarships for their seven-week language immersion program to Graeme McGuire, who will graduate from Friends next week; Caleb Brooks, a rising senior; and Katrina Keegan, a rising junior. Brooks and Keegan will stay in Kazan, Russia and study Russian; McGuire is headed to Dushanbe, Tajikstan to study Tajik (a form of Persian that is Tajikstan’s official language). When abroad, the students will live with Russian families, attend intensive language classes three hours a day, and soak up the culture.

Part of a government initiative launched in 2006, the scholarships are intended to boost the number of Americans fluent in one of seven foreign languages deemed of “critical need”: Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Turkish, and Russian.

“The goals of the NSLI-Y program include sparking a life-long interest in foreign languages and cultures, and developing a corps of young Americans with the skills necessary to advance international dialogue in the private, academic or government sectors, and build upon the foundations developed through person-to-person relationships while abroad,” stated a press release.

Because the scholarship is awarded to only 625 students nationwide, having three students from a single school earn it seems unusual. Friends’ Russian teacher, Lee Roby, explains why it’s not.

“Friends School’s reputation for producing passionate and proficient Russian students dates back to the 1950s.  We have one of only two Middle School Russian program in the state of Maryland, and one of the oldest high school Russian programs in the country, so it is not surprising that we would have a number of Russian students each year eager to apply for such opportunities,” she said.

Though Roby claims not to be surprised by her budding language scholars, she does admit to being proud of them. “I couldn’t be more pleased with all of my students; they are a curious and passionate bunch! The NSLI-Y provides an initial spark and the kids take it to a whole other level,” Roby said.