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Turlock teen headed to China on federal scholarship
Ashish Thakur
Turlock teen Ashish Thakur, pictured while giving a presentation to the Noon Rotary Club in August, will soon travel to China to study Mandarin as part of a prestigious federal program (Journal file photo).

Turlock resident Ashish Thakur is set to start his senior year of high school later this year, but already in his young life the teenager has quite the list of accomplishments, from earning a black belt in Taekwondo to hosting his own computer coding camp. Now, the Modesto High School student will embark on his most impressive journey yet as he prepares to travel to China and study Mandarin over the summer as part of a prestigious federal program.

Thakur was selected from a competitive pool of 3,300 applicants as one of 660 students who will study different foreign languages in various countries this summer through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth — a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In addition to Thakur’s choice of Mandarin, students will have the opportunity to learn languages like Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian and Turkish firsthand while studying abroad in each language’s respective country.

NSLI-Y is part of a multi-agency U.S. Government initiative launched in 2006 to improve Americans' ability to communicate in select critical languages, to advance international dialogue and increase American economic global competitiveness.

Thakur will travel to China, where he will be completely immersed in the country’s culture for six weeks while living with a host family and receiving formal language instruction.

“I’m excited to get to know my host family and build more global interaction, and learn about the Chinese culture in a way I wouldn’t be able to learn over here,” Thakur said.

Stateside, Thakur stays busy through not only his participation in the MHS International Baccalaureate Program, but also by tutoring fellow students and establishing different ways through which they can better their educational experiences.

He created the Ashish Thakur Science Foundation, which helps local students earn scholarships, and a Kids Who Code Camp, where he mentors junior high school students in computer programming. Most recently, he started a project called Educate to Eradicate DM II, or Type 2 diabetes mellitus, to teach underserved community members about how they can prevent the disease by encouraging healthy diets and physical activity in children.

It was Thakur’s interest in medicine that inspired him to apply for the opportunity to learn Mandarin in China, he said.

“Mandarin is an overall growing global language, and in my community there are a lot of non-English speakers who speak Mandarin. I’m a person who wants to go into research and work at a medical clinic,” Thakur said.

While Thakur is excited to partake in formal Mandarin lessons, he said he’s particularly looking forward to the time spent with his host family.

“Being able to experience their art and cuisine in the host language is integral to really understanding the cultural aspect of small villages and towns because they target the intense interactivity that academic learning misses,” he said. “Direct exposure with immersive stays at local villages and towns will give me true fluency, and when I go into global health or medicine as a researcher, I’ll be able to communicate with them on a more personal level.”

Thakur will fly to New York for a program orientation from June 26-28, then on June 29 will fly to China. Applications for 2020-21 NSLI-Y programs are expected to be available at in the late summer. The U.S. Department of State conducts study abroad programs for over 1,000 American high school students and approximately 3,000 foreign high school students each year. Visit for details.