Breaking barriers through language

Cheyden Paulson speaks four languages. He is the recipient of a prestigious federal scholarship. At UND, he is majoring in international studies and Spanishand he’s aiming for a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Not bad, for a 20-year-old from a town of about 500 in North Dakota’s ranch country.

Paulson’s path began on a ranch outside Richardton, a community near the Badlands in the southwestern part of the state. Using that small-town upbringing as a springboard, he developed a global mindset and an unabashed love for different languages and cultures.

His “first second” language was American Sign Language, which he picked up as a teenager when he moved to Idaho and lived near the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind.

“It was my first taste of cultural and language immersion,” Paulson said.

Two years later, he was back in North Dakota and learning Spanish with a friend. He was so enthralled by the language that he graduated from high school early and traveled to Spain to polish his speaking skills.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Other foreign students left the country, but Paulson stayed. For all he knew, he might never have another chance to visit Spain and immerse himself so fully in the language. So, despite the pandemic, he found ways to practice his buenos dias y buenas noches and made it safely through the lockdown.

“It ended up being one of the best decisions I have made,” Paulson said. “It really helped me decide that I want to pursue a career in international studies.”

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