UM Students Traveling to India on Scholarships

 The UM Hindi Team. Pictured left to right are Ruth Vanita, Margaret Grayson, Brandon Fulbrook, GG Weix, and Srijeet Mukherjee (current Hindi instructor).

The UM Hindi Team. Pictured left to right are Ruth Vanita, Margaret Grayson, Brandon Fulbrook, GG Weix, and Srijeet Mukherjee (current Hindi instructor).


Congratulations to Brandon Fulbrook and Margaret Grayson, a pair of University of Montana students who are traveling to Jaipur, India this year to study Hindi language. Both these scholarship recipients will be participating in immersive language programs designed to expedite language fluency, not to mention provide cultural enrichment and experiences of a lifetime.

Ruth Vanita, Professor and Director of Global Humanities & Religions, who advises and mentors the students, said “Margaret Grayson is now completing her first year of Hindi at UM. She has won a CLS scholarship to study Hindi further at Jaipur, India, in the summer of 2018. Brandon Fulbrook has been studying Hindi at UM ever since we began offering Hindi in 2015. He is now completing his third year of Hindi. Margaret and Brandon can read and write Hindi well, at different levels, and conduct simple conversations in Hindi.”

2018 marks the fourth year that Hindi has been taught at the South and Southeast Asian Studies program at UM. Professor Vanita said the Hindi language program may be small, but the excitement is large for its two biggest success stories this year.

Hindi is taught by Fulbright instructors from India at the university. This year the instructor is Srijeet Mukherjee, supervised by Professor Vanita.

Grayson is a student for whom language study is a natural fit. She is a something of a wordsmith herself, majoring in journalism at the university. Grayson is a managing editor at the Montana Kaimin and was previously an intern at the Missoula Independent this past summer and fall.

“I started studying Hindi because I knew I would have a lot of free time in my class schedule during my senior year and wanted to take on the challenge of learning a new script,” Grayson said. “I found out about the CLS scholarship pretty soon after I started studying Hindi and thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity to continue studying and actually get to use what I've learned. Traveling to India is a little intimidating to me so I'm excited that I'll have at least a little language skill to give me a leg up.”

Mukherjee is pleased by Grayson's progress. He said she started as an elementary level student with him being her first Hindi instructor.

“From learning the script to learning vocabulary, Margaret showed a lot of sincerity which has paid off in term of her achieving the Critical Language Scholarship,” he said. “She has a long way to go as she has spent only six months learning Hindi, but given her will and consistency, I see her learning the language quickly.”

Being accurate in syntax while translating sentences from English to Hindi is one of the things Grayson has mastered, which takes other students some time to be accurate in, said Mukherjee.

“English follows a subject-verb-object syntax structure while Hindi has a subject-object-verb structure,” he explains. “This causes a lot of confusion among people but in recent classes Margaret has been absolutely flawless. She needs to work on the pronunciation of aspirated sounds but I feel that the people in the Summer School in India will aid her in achieving that.”

Grayson said, “It's crazy that Hindi isn't studied more in the U.S. because such a large population of people speak it. Americans in general often have little knowledge of Indian languages or India in general — I certainly knew almost nothing before I started studying it. I'm glad Professor Vanita can lead this program at UM and provide students here with much-needed perspective on Southeast Asia. Hopefully more people will sign up for Beginning Hindi next fall!”

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) that Grayson received is part of a wider government initiative to multiply the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity. The program is sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is supported by American Councils for International Education.

While the CLS scholarship has a geo-political bent, what drew Fulbrook to applying for his American Institute of Indian Studies scholarship, was its wide scope and diversity. He said one can study humanities, religion, anthropology, and linguistics.

Fulbrook has won a 2018-19 AIIS scholarship to study Hindi in India for nine months. He is a junior majoring in political science at Missoula College. Fulbrook is ecstatic about his departure this September. Call Him Keshav as he is traveling around Jaipur. Keshav is the name Fulbrook was christened in a name-giving ceremony in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. The actual name of the ceremony is Namakarana Samskara. It was a private ceremony at the Hindu Temple and Jain Center of Las Vegas with the pandit (priest).

Fulbrook said in his formative years he grew up in a few different households. “I was raised in Catholic, Mormon, and Evangelical Christian households. I pursued new age spirituality before I was thirteen,” he explained. Then at 19 he met a friend teaching a class on the Bhagavad Gita at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula. It was a revelatory experience.

“The philosophy perfectly addressed the theism versus non-theism that I was really in a way searching for,” he said with a smile. “It didn't create a dichotomy between the two.”

Fulbrook will continue his quest for knowledge in Jaipur, which is the capital of Rajasthan. “I think I’ll love Jaipur. I’m passionate about it. From what I’ve seen, Jaipur is scenic, smack dab in a desert. I grew up in a desert, a similar biome and climate. In an odd way, being on the other side of the planet, it might be like home.”

Having already a strong language skill set, Fulbrook is prepared for Jaipur, and for travel to other parts of India. On his winter break between semesters, he intends to participate in the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad. Later in the spring, he plans to go south to Chennai. Upon his return to the United States in April, Fulbrook plans on graduating and pursuing a graduate degree in law. He said he will potentially use his language skill to work for an NGO, or advise foreign policy and diplomacy that is constructive.

Fulbrook encourages other UM students to study Hindi. “If anyone is intimidated by pursuing a new language, I was intimidated too,” he said. “Have faith in your ability to learn by exposure. Allow yourself to be a total clueless learner of something. Go at your own pace. Every piece will factor into your learning as a whole. In language there's no single small piece you don't end up using as you speak. Everything you learn, no matter how small or slow you start, it guarantees you future success.”

Mukherjee, who instructs Fulbrook, said the latter has been learning informally for over five years now and he also watches Indian cartoons and a few Indian sitcoms on YouTube.

“Brandon is able to decipher situations from contexts if there are words unknown to him,” said Mukherjee. “He can understand speech at a normal speed, which is no mean feat given that he has slim to no contact with the language outside the classroom, as Missoula doesn't really have a huge Indian diaspora. He is very driven and his drive extends beyond learning the language to learning and adopting Indian culture as well.”

Professor Ruth Vanita said the American Institute of Indian Studies offers summer, one semester and 9-month scholarships. There are also many Boren and CLS scholarships that students can apply for to continue their study of Hindi in India. These scholarships cover tuition, living expenses and air fare.

Vanita said Hindi is a phonetic language (written exactly as spoken) and an Indo-European language, a first cousin of English. As a spoken language, Hindi is the same as Urdu, and is extremely useful for students of business, journalism, media studies (India has the largest film industry in the world), politics and economics.

Vanita said “We are offering GH191 Elementary Hindi, in the fall. It fulfills Gen Ed language requirement. Also, we just found out that numerous Boren summer scholarships are available for students of Hindi to take intensive courses at University of Wisconsin and in India.”

For more information, contact Ruth Vanita, professor, UM Liberal Studies Program,; GG Weix, professor, UM Department of Anthropology,; or call South And Southeast Asian Studies (SSEA) at (406) 241-5793.