LEAP: Language Enabled Airmen Program

  • Published
  • By Captain Krystal Lowder
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

So, let me start off by telling you a little about myself, before I tell you about the amazing journey I am going to be on for the next month! I’ll be writing these notes weekly, so feel free to follow my journey over the next 4 weeks.

My name is Capt Krystal Lowder and I am the 33rd Fighter Wing’s Protocol Officer. I was born in Chi-town (Chicago)! I am headed to India for 29 days for an Air Force funded language intensive program.

Both of my parents immigrated to America from what used to be considered Andrah Pradesh, India, between the 1970s and 1980s.

When my older brother was born, my Mom dropped him off with my grandparents at their orphanage in a little village in India called Jangoan so she could finish up school in America.

I often tell him he was the luckiest of us all… he was the first grandchild, the most loved, and was immersed in the culture, art, traditions and language. He spent his first two years of life being an American, raised by educated, Christian and TRADITIONAL Indians.

Through that experience he had the chance to master the local language, Telugu, and really learn how to communicate effectively with the locals at a very young age.

However, that immersion didn’t happen without a few consequences for him when he returned to the states. By the time he started pre-school, he wasn’t able to communicate in English and encountered some raw, city-kid bullying from his fellow four-year olds who laughed at him when he would try to speak in Telugu and fail at communicating in English.

Due to those challenges caused by language barriers, my parents made sure my twin brother and I were immersed in American culture and required us to speak to them only in English. My whole life I was able to understand my native language, but I just couldn’t seem to formulate my thoughts and speech in Telugu. Honestly, I never thought anything of it as I went through college - I just assumed I’d live in a world that always communicated with English and that would be that…. Plot twist… my world turned upside down when I joined the Air Force and married my amazing husband.

William Lowder, born and raised in Goldsboro, North Carolina decided he wanted to marry me, some Indian city girl from chi-town (Chicago) and learn Telugu to show my parents how serious he was about me. Soon enough though, he realized how incredibly difficult it was, gave up, and switched to mastering Hindi. I watched my husband dedicate countless hours to learning an Indian language that I can barely understand myself, and I couldn’t even speak the language I had heard my whole life…. Something was wrong with that picture. How could my husband, who had no experience with Indian culture before marrying me, decide and succeed at learning Hindi when I couldn’t even grasp the concept of speaking Telugu?

I took his passion for learning as a challenge and we both set goals of developing our language skills. We were hoping we could find a way to weave our passion for language into the Air Force and stumbled upon an amazing (and highly funded) language initiative - the Language Enabled Airmen Program (LEAP). We both high-fived and said we’d apply for the program and hoped we would both get in by fall of 2017. To our surprise, we both got in the program to develop what is considered strategic and emerging languages. Will was honing his skills in Hindi, and I was going to learn what I didn’t already know about Telugu. Currently, Will is 1 of 36 Hindi speakers in the LEAP program and I’m 1 of well… 1 Telugu speakers in the program (yes, the one and only so far)!

Since we’ve been accepted, my husband has already completed his Language Intensive Training Event (LITE) in New Delhi and I’m following his footsteps learning in the same city! I’ll be in New Delhi for 29 days and will spend 4-6 hours a day completing formal language training at a local language institute.

Luckily, I’ve been to India on numerous occasions which will lessen the shock of the cultural differences. However, I will say that with every visit I make to the mother land, I learn something new, profound and life-changing. I’m hoping I can share some of those experiences with you through this incredible opportunity and I hope they can broaden your perspective of the vast world we get the chance to be part of.

Thanks for following my journey – this is just the beginning!


-- Krystal