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Ben Simington wins prestigious CLS Award

By Elizabeth Young

April 10, 2014

Benjamin Simington ’15February was a very good month for history major Benjamin Simington.

But then again, so was March.

In the last two months, the Carthage junior learned he received not one, but two prestigious scholarships to study Hindi. In February, he was awarded a fellowship from the Critical Language Scholarship program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. One month later, he learned he won the competitive Foreign Language Area Scholarship. The CLS provides the opportunity to study in Jaipur, India; the FLAS covers study at the esteemed South Asia Summer Language Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“He received two awards that are generally not given to undergraduate students,” said Carthage history professor Eric Pullin, calling them two of the nation’s most prestigious and competitive scholarships.

“I was overjoyed,” said Ben, who is currently studying abroad in Varanasi, India. “I am honored to have been a recipient of both awards.”

Unable to accept both scholarships, Ben chose to accept the CLS. He will spend the summer learning Hindi in Jaipur, India, “a city with a rich history and culture,” Ben said. The CLS program pays for his flights, housing, meals, travel costs, language instruction, and a stipend. “Having the chance to constantly speak Hindi in the host country made CLS seem like the best choice. … It is my hope that from my time in Jaipur, I can sharpen my Hindi reading, speaking, and listening skills.”

The CLS will do much more than that. “Students who go through this kind of a program often go on to Ivy League graduate schools, or they work for the State Department, the CIA, or government agencies that deal with diplomacy or intercultural relations,” Prof. Pullin said. “With these language skills, Ben becomes very competitive in the private sector as someone who can work with Fortune 500 companies that are doing business in India.”

‘Awestruck’ in his freshman year

Ben first became interested in India during the spring semester of his freshman year, when he took a History of India course. “Prior to taking the class, I had a very limited knowledge of India,” Ben said. “During the class, I was awestruck by the incredible diversity of the country’s religious and historical traditions.”

He knew he wanted to learn more.

Ben sought out additional opportunities, with enthusiastic support from Prof. Pullin, religion professor Jim Lochtefeld, and history professor Stephanie Mitchell. In January 2013, Ben traveled to India on a J-Term study tour led by Prof. Lochtefeld. “Dr. Lochtefeld has been leading J-Term trips to India for more than the past 10 years,” Ben said. “During the trip, I got the chance to visit a variety of sites sacred to the Hindu, Sikh, and Islamic faiths. The trip was a powerful experience and also really helped me to reflect on questions of tolerance and pluralism.”

During the summer of 2013, Ben attended the South Asian Summer Language Institute at UW-Madison, supported by a scholarship from Carthage’s Humanities Division.

Back on campus, he took every course on Indian history, religion, and culture that he could find, and continued studying the Hindi language through independent study with Prof. Lochtefeld.

“We were really impressed with Ben’s ability to understand the materials, and we also noticed his really finely tuned sensitivity to language,” Prof. Pullin said. “We noticed within a couple of months of studying with this guy that he picked up on anything Indian and just absorbed it like a sponge.”

Professor support

Ben is currently studying abroad in Varanasi, India, often hailed as the country’s cultural capital. He describes it as “unlike any city I have ever been to. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and one of the most sacred cities for Hindus.” He arrived in Varanasi on Jan. 17, and will stay until May 3.

“As a student in the Alliance for Global Education, I am studying Intermediate Hindi, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Indian Religious Traditions, and taking a sociology class focusing on Varanasi,” he said. “When not studying, I spend a lot of time at Indian classical music concerts, visiting temples, and walking along the ghats, a series of steps leading down to the Ganges.”

He says he is grateful for the support he has received from his Carthage professors.

“The relationship between Carthage professors and students is truly unique. At Carthage, professors really work in tandem with students so that students can get the most out of their education,” Ben said. “I have been enriched through working with all of my professors, but the three departments that have been really instrumental for my development as a student are the History, Great Ideas, and Asian Studies departments. Within the History Department, Dr. Pullin and Dr. Mitchell have been extremely helpful in guiding my historical research and interests. Within the Great Ideas Program, Dr. Ali and Dr. McShane have been instrumental in furthering my interest in the great books of the western tradition. Within the Asian Studies program, Dr. Lochtefeld has been vital for furthering my knowledge of Indian religious traditions and Hindi.”

“When I graduated from high school, I came to college with the hope that I would be able to learn more about the world and enrich my life through study,” he continued. “At Carthage, I really feel as though I have been able to do that, and from being here, my world view has begun to mature. Carthage is a place where if you have a dream and are willing to work hard, your professors will give you the support and guidance that you need.”

The admiration definitely goes both ways.

“I’m beaming with pride,” Prof. Pullin said. “It’s students like Ben that make me proud to work at Carthage.”

Benjamin Simington ’15 at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, IndiaBenjamin Simington ’15 at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, India