adelaide tracey in front of a wooden gate

A love of languages opens doors and creates connections

August 26, 2022


For recent graduate Adelaide Tracey, foreign languages are music to her ears.

“If I could, I would learn all 7,100 languages because it's so fun,” Tracey said.

She’s fluent in French and English, speaks a bit of Czech, and is nearly fluent in Urdu. She spent her last semester as a Spider on a long-awaited study abroad experience in Prague, followed by a summer in Lucknow, India, on a scholarship funded by the U.S. government.

“I want to become perfect in every language I study, and then start the next one," she said, “because it opens up so many doors.”

Tracey is one of three UR students who earned the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship this year. It’s part of a government initiative to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering foreign languages the U.S Department of State defines as less commonly taught in U.S. schools but essential for America’s national security and economic prosperity. They include Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

Tracey became fluent in French during high school, and joined the French club at the University of Richmond to get to know other language and travel aficionados.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed her study abroad experiences, but it didn’t stop her from becoming a global studies major and minoring in music and French.

She earned her Critical Language Scholarship as a junior studying Urdu virtually with a study partner in India. She finally got the chance this summer to meet that student and explore the region she had learned so much about.

“I wanted to have that in-person experience. There's only so much you can learn online,” Tracey said. “Urdu is spoken throughout parts of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, but these days it's become politically charged with the Hindu-Muslim divide. It's a beautiful language and important to South Asian poetry and literature. I was motivated to study Urdu because I thought it would be a great way to get some insight into the religious and political dynamic in India and South Asia.”

Before traveling to Prague, Tracey completed her senior thesis on gender equality in the Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq. She spent the summer attending Urdu classes in Lucknow and learning to play the tabla, a pair of Indian hand drums.

“Most people I met this summer were honored and thrilled that someone wanted to partake in their society, in their culture, and learn from them,” Tracey said. “I learned a lot from each interaction I had.”