University of Iowa junior to experience Indonesia on U.S. State Department scholarship

UI student Mark Schoen has been awarded the U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship to study the official language of Indonesia, Bahasa, during the summer.


Ryan Adams

University of Iowa student Mark Schoen stands outside of Schaefer Hall for a portrait on Monday, April 8, 2019.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

Attending and graduating from high school in Singapore isn’t an opportunity many students from the U.S. can say they have had. Mark Schoen credits his experiences in high school as the reason he plans to live and work abroad in the future.

“When I came back from high school to Iowa, I really realized that was something that I really needed and wanted in my life, so I was looking around for opportunities,” he said.

Schoen, a University of Iowa junior majoring in economics and art, was awarded the U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship to study Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia.

For six weeks during the summer, Schoen will travel to Malang, Indonesia, to take an intensive language course in Bahasa, also called Indonesian. Schoen will immerse himself in the language through his coursework and interactions with the community he’ll live in.

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During Schoen’s sophomore year, he received a Stanley Award to conduct research in Hong Kong, giving him his first experience abroad while in college.

The Critical Language Scholarship takes place in the summer, making it easy for students to fit that experience into their schedules, Associate Director of International Fellowships Karen Wachsmuth said. The scholarship could also open career opportunities for students who receive it, she said.

“[The scholarship] is for U.S. citizens to get facility in language skills and also to learn about another culture that the United States considers critical to national security and to our place in the world,” Wachsmuth said.

Bahasa started as a small trader language not widely used, but then became the national language of Indonesia, Schoen said. Indonesia is a rising presence in Asia, and he has an interest in the ways Indonesia is developing its economy to be environmentally sustainable as it continues to grow, he said.

Schoen wants to be able to understand what’s going on in the country from the perspective of the people who live there and apply that knowledge to his future career, he said.

While in Indonesia, Schoen will pursue intensive Bahasa training for three hours in a classroom setting, then three hours of outside studying, he said. He’ll also do cultural outreach set up in the program to introduce American culture to people who may have never interacted with someone from the U.S. before, he said.

As a student, Schoen displayed a passion for what he was learning and was interested in sharing his ideas with others, said Pamela Bourjaily, the director of the Frank Business Communication Center in the Tippie College of Business.

“He is utterly, sincerely engaged in learning, and not just say like a class, or learning what you have to learn to do well in class — he is all in,” Bourjaily said.

Studying in Indonesia will allow Schoen to learn more about the business protocol there and gain language expertise that not many other people have, she said.

Having the opportunity to travel abroad can help Schoen and other students learn more about other cultures and countries and see their experiences in the U.S. in a new way, Ambassador in Residence Ronald McMullen said.

“Mark has been very good at taking advantage of all the opportunities that Iowa offers, and I think in that case, he can be a role model for other students,” McMullen said.