Foreign language studies were not something Lanasia Pleasants, a junior from Havelock studying in communication and international studies at Western Carolina University, heard much about growing up.
But a middle school Spanish class opened her eyes to the possibilities that studying a foreign language could bring. Pleasants first learned about Korean dramas in high school, and she became fascinated by the language and all the many dialects spoken in different regions of South Korea.
“I, of course, was used to the English language where we might have different accents but overall, the language is the same,” Pleasants said. “To then discover these language-based shows really got me interested in learning Korean and immersing myself in the culture.”
Continuing to learn about the language and culture, Pleasants’ entire family became interested in learning more, with Pleasants’ sister introducing them to the music genre called “K-Pop” and Korean food.
“My family and I used to frequent a Korean barbecue restaurant and the owner taught us how to use chopsticks and the grill,” Pleasants said. “We got to learn how the grill worked and I discovered my love for kimchee, a versatile Korean food that you can use in a variety of dishes.”
Pleasants continued to try and learn Korean on her own, which proved to be difficult. Once it was time to choose a university, she did her research and found WCU’s foreign language studies program.
“While WCU did offer a Korean language course, I was able to take courses through the University of North Carolina’s online program and get credit at WCU and that opened lots of doors for me,” Pleasants said.
Pleasants took a course from WCU’s director of international studies, Ingrid Bego, who also urged Pleasants to apply for the David L. Boren Scholarship offered by the National Security Education Program, which would have given Pleasants the chance to study in South Korea.
The National Security Education Program, a division of the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, is the sponsor of the David L. Boren scholarships and fellowships. A federal program called NSEP aims to create a larger and more qualified pool of Americans with international and foreign language skills.
Boren awards provide U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the U.S.
In exchange for funding, Boren award recipients agree to work in the federal government for a period of at least one year.
Pleasants was chosen as the 2023 recipient and is only the third WCU student to receive this scholarship.
“We are very proud of Lanaisa,” Bego said. “Her enthusiasm for learning the language and culture is very rewarding and is paving the way for future WCU students.”
Pleasants is thrilled to get to study the Korean language in South Korea this fall and her friends from WCU who are international students from South Korea, are helping her prepare for the trip.
“One of my friends from WCU will actually be back in South Korea while I am there, so she will be a great resource of information,” Pleasants said. “I also have a cousin that lives there, so I have a great support system.”