By Suzy Price
Haley Gayden, PHS Senior and dual enrollment student at the University of North Georgia, has recently been awarded the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Scholarship to study in Deyang, China.
The scholarship is federally funded and highly competitive; Gayden is one of only 25 students in the country to be selected for the China trip. She has been studying Chinese at UNG for a year now, and plans to attend the University of Mississippi as a double major in Chinese and International Business.
With both the NSLI-Y scholarship and a second scholarship from Ole Miss, Gayden will have two chances to study Chinese in China.
Gayden chose to study Chinese after studying Spanish in high school and realizing she has a knack for foreign languages.
“I thought, ‘what language would help me in my future career the most?’ I didn’t want to do Spanish, because it was too simple and is becoming too commonly spoken,” she said. “Chinese was the clear choice, and I wanted a challenge. Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn and I love it, I think it will give me that competitive edge.”
Her dream job is to work in foreign affairs either as a translator or a representative for a company. She chose to attend the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) because it is one of 12 schools in the U.S. with a program called “Chinese Flagship,” which allows students to study abroad after their freshman year. This is when the NSLI-Y scholarship comes in; she will start her time abroad the summer before her sophomore year in college. Ole Miss also has what they call capstone years for their students in which they can do a year abroad as an intern after they graduate. These two combined will give Gayden two experiences to learn Chinese abroad.
During her time in Deyang, China after her freshman year, Gayden will be an exchange student working six hours a day intensely learning the Chinese language and participating in cultural activities. She will be able to travel and explore on the weekends.
When she isn’t learning foreign languages, Gayden spends her time working at two jobs and participating in the PHS FBLA, Beta, and Youth Leadership clubs. Throughout high school she has also participated in student government and the FCA. She also has a full course load of college classes at UNG, and will graduate from Pickens High School this May.
In addition to the NSLI-Y Scholarship, she has been awarded local scholarships from Amicalola EMC and the Big Canoe Chapel, and has been granted an Academic Excellence scholarship from the University of Mississippi. Receiving the scholarship to study in China was a long and stressful process, according to Gayden. She had to submit an extensive application and multiple essays in November, and was selected as a semi-finalist for the scholarship in December. In January, she did an interview, and then she was finally selected as one of the scholarship recipients.
“I cried for at least an hour when I found out that I had been given this opportunity,” said Gayden, “I feel like I've just worked so hard and sacrificed so much and it was finally paying off. Not many kids get this scholarship, and me, a girl from a small town with big dreams, did.”