Boyertown grad receives unique internship opportunity in Africa

Jessica Kurtz, a 2015 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School and current student at Hofstra University, will be studying Swahili in Tanzania this summer after winning the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.
Jessica Kurtz, a 2015 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School and current student at Hofstra University, will be studying Swahili in Tanzania this summer after winning the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship. Photo courtesy of Tina Kurtz
Jessica Kurtz, a student at Hofstra University and graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School, was awarded a scholarship that will allow her to travel to Arusha, Tanzania to study Swahili with a host family.
Jessica Kurtz, a student at Hofstra University and graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School, was awarded a scholarship that will allow her to travel to Arusha, Tanzania to study Swahili with a host family. Photo courtesy of Tina Kurtz

BOYERTOWN >> Internships, though many times painful to attain, can open the door to many career opportunities.

Jessica Kurtz, a 2015 graduate of Boyertown Area High Senior School who is currently attending Hofstra University, is hoping her unique internship will do just that.

“I will be studying Swahili in Arusha, Tanzania, with 10 other recipients. I will be staying for two months — I leave June 7 and return Aug. 8. I will be staying with a Tanzanian host family,” explained Kurtz. “I am incredibly excited and cannot wait for my trip. I will be taking Swahili classes every week, Monday through Friday. I’ll also be traveling and seeing other parts of Tanzania on the weekends with my fellow recipients. I am really looking forward to staying with a host family and getting to know them. Arusha is relatively close to Mount Kilimanjaro so hopefully I will get to explore it.”

Kurtz, an honors student with a double major in secondary education and English and a minor in speech-language-hearing science, has been chosen to study this summer in Arusha, Tanzania, to learn and master Swahili, a Bantu language widely used in East Africa.

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“I looked at the list of Hofstra’s offered languages and was struck by Swahili. The logical choice would have been to continue my Spanish studies from high school; however, I wanted to try something completely unfamiliar and new to me. I fell in love with the language and wanted to have a deeper understanding of the people and culture of Swahili-speaking countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya. I credit my Swahili professor, Dr. Rob Leonard and Vice Provost Dr. Neil Donahue on helping me throughout the application process,” she said.

She received the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship after a rigorous application process. Applications are first reviewed by language faculty, area specialists, study abroad professionals and fellowship advisors before entering the first round where applications are read by two outside reviewers. During the second round, top applications are submitted to selection panels. During the selection process, applicants are selected based on several factors including academic record, commitment to language learning, the connection between their target language and career goals and their contributions to the Critical Language Scholarship Program.

“I’m not at all surprised,” said Jessica’s mother, Tina, of her daughter’s accomplishments. “She was very outgoing even in high school. She was in various clubs and she was always in some sort of leadership role. She is such a successful person. I know that whatever she does, she will make it awesome. Jessica is a very bright, independent and interesting person. She is always looking for new opportunities to learn and expand her mind culturally.”

Jessica Kurtz currently serves as Treasurer in Alpha Phi Omega, a coed service fraternity at Hofstra. She has also worked as a Discovery Leader for the past two years for Hofstra’s Discovery Program, an early arrival program for incoming first-year and transfer students who engage in advocacy, community service, and outdoor recreation. For the past two years, she has worked as a counselor at Camp Hero in Millville, PA, a camp for children K-12 who are deaf and hard of hearing. She is also a member of the Hofstra English Society and student organizer for Take Back the Night, an annual event to raise awareness about sexual violence and to stand in solidarity with survivors. She will also be inducted as a member of Hofstra Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international honor society for English majors, on Friday May 2.

“I am thrilled to win this award! I feel very lucky. I have never been to Tanzania or anywhere in Africa before,” said Kurtz. “I hope to become a fluent/nearly fluent Swahili speaker this summer. I hope to expand my Western perspective with a culture that is entirely new to me.”

The U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship looks to help expand the number of Americans studying foreign languages. The program offers scholarship experiences with languages including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Russian and Arabic among others.

Kurtz is scheduled to graduate in December 2019 and although she hasn’t decided exactly what she would like to do after graduation, she says she is considering a career in education, linguistics, and interpreting.