Senior’s experience in STARTALK language, cultures program provides new outlook

April 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Senior Erika Kraus said she always had an appreciation for different cultures but that her life was forever changed after enrolling in an intensive Arabic language and cultures program following her freshman year.

“It shook up my world view,” Kraus said. “When I came to Penn State I had no idea that I would get involved in Arabic. After the Arabic academy I was able to travel to the Middle East and Africa, and experience living with a Muslim family and building connections with real people and taking that back to my home and community.”

The Pittsburgh native enrolled in the STARTALK Arabic Academy at University Park in 2014 following the recommendation of her French instructor. The academy, to be held this year from June 19 to July 14, is an innovative, federally funded program of intensive summer study designed for highly motivated undergraduate and high school students who wish to gain introductory knowledge of the Arabic language and its people and cultures.

Kraus, who is majoring in community, environment and development in the College of Agricultural Sciences, traveled to Morocco twice after completing the academy. She participated in a weeklong immersion trip in 2014 and went back to the North African country during her junior year after being awarded a U.S. Department of Education fellowship.

The STARTALK program is available through the Language Institute at Penn State, which is offered by Penn State Outreach and the College of the Liberal Arts’ School of Global Languages, Literatures and Cultures. In addition to Arabic, the institute offers summer languages courses in Chinese, English as a Second Language, French, German, ancient Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. There are also scholarships available for studying Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese and Russian.

The language programs are open to undergraduate and graduate students from any institution, as well anyone at least 15-years-old who is interested in building language and intercultural competence.

Following graduation in May, Kraus will help start a STARTALK program at another institution but hopes her future includes improving education, human rights and health care for women and children in the Middle East and Africa.

“I have a passion for international community development,” said Kraus. “I want to use my Arabic speaking skills and educational background to improve relations, communication and understanding between Middle Eastern countries and the United States, whether at the grassroots or governmental levels.”

Visit the Language Institute at Penn State’s website for program and scholarship information, or email Elena Galinova, the institute’s academic director, at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 18, 2017