Lita MeeYun ShapiroHow does an Asian-born teen who has grown up in Arlington feel about her native country? Might she be inquisitive about a culture that lies in her genes, or at least in a deep-held, aching memory?

Liat MeeYun Shapiro knows questions like these.

"Going to Korea with this program is a dream come true for me," she wrote June 19. "When I was a child, my parents nurtured interest in my country of birth with books, food, Korean school and cultural outings.

"As a young adult, I have adopted this interest as my own, and it has permeated my academic and extracurricular interests."

"For me, a Korean-born American girl growing up outside an Asian community, I have always held a particular curiosity about all things Korean," she wrote.

While in high school, she restarted Korean language study independently, using online and community-education resources.

She has addressed issues affecting the Korean peninsula in public-speaking tournaments and essay contests. She also works on fund-raising for Liberty in North Korea with fellow high school students. She has worked to connect with musicians living in Korea through her work as a harpist.

"I love Korean food, books, music and movies. Visiting Korea with my parents and my four brothers and sisters in 2013 was thrilling," she wrote. "I cannot imagine anything better than trying all these threads together in a full-immersion experience. I am so grateful to the state Department and the host family that will allow me to experience their life this summer."

U.S.-Korea relationship strengthens

At the same time, she wrote, international realities make Korea a compelling place for weightier reasons.

"In 1950, President Truman justified American military support for Korea in affirming: 'Korea is a small country, thousands of miles away, but what is happening there is important to every American.'" The U.S. "police action in Korea began 65 years ago this month

"His statement holds true today as the U.S.-Korea relationship surpasses Truman's original vision, encompassing economic goods and cultural values exchanged in both directions. Korean language study prepares me for involvement in this alliance, be it in the Foreign Service, international business or academic collaboration."

Shapiro, who is home-schooled in Arlington, has been awarded a scholarship to study this summer where she was born.

The 18-year-old plans to study Korean in South Korea under a U.S. Department of State NSLI-Y Scholarship. The letters stand for National Security Language Initiative for Youth.

She plans to begin applying to colleges this fall and will attend university the year after.

Among 620 nationwide

She is among 620 competitively selected students from across the United States who will receive a scholarship to study Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Russian or Turkish overseas this year, a State Department news release says.

While in South Korea, Shapiro will receive formal instruction and informal language practice in an immersion environment.

The U.S. language program seeks to increase the number of Americans who can engage with native speakers of key languages. Its goals include sparking a lifelong interest in foreign languages and cultures as well as developing a corps of young Americans with the skills necessary to advance international dialogue.

The language program is administered by American Councils for International Education in cooperation with AFS-USA, American Cultural Exchange Service, AMIDEAST, Chinese Language and Culture Center of Maine, iEARN-USA, Legacy International, Russian American Foundation, Stony Brook University, the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin.

Applications for 2016-2017 NSLI-Y programs are expected to be available at in the early fall.

For information about U.S. Department of State-sponsored exchange programs, click here >> 

This report was published Friday, June 19, 2015.