Gahanna Lincoln High School senior Steven Lao will study for a month in Korea this summer before pursuing a degree in international business at the Ohio State University.

Gahanna Lincoln High School senior Steven Lao will study for a month in Korea this summer before pursuing a degree in international business at the Ohio State University.

Lao has been awarded one of more than 600 National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarships for 2012-13.

The NSLI-Y program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and in academic-year overseas immersion programs.

"This scholarship means everything to me," Lao said. "I was introduced to the Korean culture in the eighth grade through Korean music, and I have always liked the language."

He listened to Korean music constantly throughout high school and has spent enormous amounts of time trying to keep up with Korean media, trends and fashion, he said.

"But I never really had the chance to learn the language," Lao said. "Though I was able to pretty much perfect my pronunciation of Korean by constantly singing Korean songs for two to three years and learn how to read and write Korean after my friend taught me, I had barely any idea what I was saying, singing, hearing, reading or writing."

Lao said he was ecstatic to learn about the NSLI-Y program. He said there's no better way to learn the language than to stay with a host family in Seoul, South Korea.

"I am expecting myself to accumulate extensive amounts of knowledge and cultural experience, much more than I could ever try to gain on the Internet and through textbooks," Lao said. "Since I am so intertwined with the culture in South Korea, I hope that someday I will be able to spend a longer part of my life there. For the reason that I love foreign language so much, I explored the world of business and marketing education to build a foundation for my passion."

The NSLI-Y scholarship covers all program costs, including domestic and international travel; tuition and related academic preparation; language testing; educational and cultural activities focused on language learning; orientations; meals; and accommodations with a host family.

The goals of the NSLI-Y program include sparking a lifelong interest in foreign languages and cultures and developing a corps of young Americans with the skills necessary to advance international dialogue in the private, academic and government sectors, building upon the foundations developed through person-to-person relationships while abroad.

Applications for 2013-14 NSLI-Y programs will be available online at nsliforyouth.org in the early fall.