As an artist and teacher, 26-year-old Sarah Phillips wants to—no, make that she has to—learn about other cultures, from the way people express themselves through art to the languages they speak.
“For me, art, education and language are all about finding means for self-contextualization in a world of vastly different communication styles and infinite narrative,” said Phillips, who grew up in King George County. “The methods may vary, but the ultimate goal is the same—bridging complex divides.”
Phillips also is fortunate in that she learns languages quickly, said her mother, Susan Phillips, a kindergarten teacher at King George Elementary School. That skill is coming in handy this summer as Sarah Phillips embarks on exploring yet another language and culture.
She received a scholarship from the U.S. State Department to learn Azerbaijani, a Turkic language spoken in southwestern Asia, primarily in Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, she would have gone to Turkey to study, but is doing the sessions online instead.
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Phillips hopes the course “is the beginning of opening doors to working in community peace-building and arts globally, but of course, specifically in Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.”
The daughter of Craig and Susan Phillips of King George, Sarah Phillips graduated from King George High School and the Commonwealth’s Governor School in 2013. Four years later, she received two degrees from James Madison University: a bachelor’s in fine arts and degree in theater with a concentration on theatrical painting.
“JMU had her hopping back and forth to all sorts of countries,” her mother said, to earn her next degree: a certificate of advanced studies in arts and international cooperation. That came in 2020 and included studies at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland.
Phillips earned her master’s in fine arts this year.
She’s fluent in Spanish, thanks to high school and college courses as well as trips to Panama and Puerto Rico—which are among 24 countries she’s visited. Phillips also can read Romanian after visits to southeastern Europe during college.
She’s teaching at JMU this summer and fall, focusing on 3-D art and sculpture, and hopes she can visit Turkey in the winter, if the global pandemic has waned.
The State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Program aims to expand the number of Americans mastering 15 critical languages, which range from Arabic and Bangla to Swahili and Urdu. American graduate and undergraduate students get the chance to spend eight to 10 weeks in language studies and cultural enrichment.
Program participants are expected to continue their study and apply the language skills in future careers, according to the State Department. The program’s goal is to prepare American students for a globalized workforce, increase U.S. competitiveness and contribute to national security.
Since 2006, the program has awarded scholarships to more than 8,000 American students who also serve as citizen ambassadors.
“People-to-people exchanges bring our world closer together and convey the best of America to the world, especially to its young people,” sad Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425