Student Spotlight: Laura Herrera

Student Spotlight: Laura Herrera

Writer / Matt Keating
Photography Provided

Laura Herrera, a senior at Westfield High School, traveled to Taiwan to complete the U.S. Department of State’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, initiated by President George W. Bush in 2006.Laura Herrera

“The primary objective of this program was to enhance national security through the provision of languages that are deemed to be of crucial importance,” Herrera says. “In my particular circumstance, the language of focus was Chinese.”

The U.S. Department of State is sponsoring Herrera’s full-ride NSLI-Y scholarship.

“Thanks to the scholarship I received, I had the opportunity to live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and study at Wenzao Ursuline University,” Herrera says. “During my time there I engaged in comprehensive Chinese language classes that consisted of professor-led instruction and immersive experiences. The duration of my lessons spanned from 8 a.m. to noon, followed by either a cultural class or the completion of Chinese presentation assignments until 3 p.m.”

Following the conclusion of her classes, Herrera typically engaged in completing her homework, which involved either speaking assignments, book workshops, or presentations.

“I regularly accomplished these things by 7 p.m.,” Herrera says. “During my spare time I had the opportunity to get to know the city, meet different people and hang out with my friends.”

Herrera successfully completed her program and obtained a certificate of completion.

“I am now eligible for various government-sponsored programs and I have attained alumni status,” Herrera says. “For instance, I am presently in the process of submitting an application to attend a seminar in Paris with 40 other alumni on the subject of diversity and inclusiveness through sports diplomacy. Through this program I will gain valuable insights into how sports can function as an exceptional medium for connecting individuals with diverse backgrounds.”

In the application process for the NSLI-Y, applicants are required to select a specific language rather than a particular location. Hundreds of students are sent to acquire proficiency in these languages.

“All languages have equal or almost equal durations, although several languages display differences in their periods of departure from and return to the United States,” Herrera says. “As an example, my cohort from Morocco arrived a week later than my cohort from Taiwan. All programs share a common structure, wherein the majority of one’s day is dedicated to studying their individual language. Nevertheless, the distinguishing factors lie in the duration of interaction with a host family and the availability of such an arrangement.”

Laura HerreraHerrera is one of just 442 students selected from thousands of high school applicants across the United States to receive an NSLI‐Y scholarship.

“Indeed, this scholarship is characterized by a high level of competition,” she says. “It is posited that the acceptance rate is at 15%. This scholarship places less emphasis on your academic achievement, and instead focuses on evaluating your interests and objectives. The application process consists of two distinct steps.”

The initial stage involves steps such as the submission of an application and the composition of an essay.

“In addition to my application to the YES Abroad program and the NSLI-Y academic year and summer, I was required to independently compose four essays,” Herrera says. “I was offered acceptance into the YES Abroad program, which would have allowed me to engage in a yearlong study experience in Ghana. However, I made the decision to decline this opportunity in order to prioritize my college application process and successfully complete my high school graduation at Westfield.”

Herrera enjoyed the NSLI-Y program.

“I was very impressed with this program as we did get a stipend every two weeks in order to meet our basic needs to go out, have fun or just do activities,” she says. “The necessary provisions such as beds, blankets, pillows and other essential items were readily delivered to us upon transitioning from our host family to the dormitories. Additionally, they provided us with a SIM card or a programmed phone, facilitating easy communication between ourselves and our local families.”

In addition, Herrera and other program participants were accompanied on several destinations within Taiwan, as independent travel was not permitted during the summer.

“Our host families graciously facilitated visits to numerous local cities and picturesque sites, including the renowned Sun Moon Lake, known for its captivating beauty and unspoiled natural landscapes,” Herrera says. “I had the opportunity to encounter a monk within a temple situated in a mountain, who I got to learn from.”

“I wholeheartedly encourage people to consider applying to this program as it has greatly contributed to my personal growth, independence and maturity,” Herrera adds. “It has provided me with a unique opportunity to explore a different career path that aligns with my interests and aspirations. This experience has been invaluable and I am eager to emphasize its significant impact that it had on me, where I now want to pursue a career as a diplomat for the United States of America, with the aim of fostering and improving international relationships. If you want to learn more about the program or need help during your application, you may contact me through my email at”

For more info on the NSLI-Y program including application details, visit Herrera

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