For West Virginia University students Amna Khan and Colin Lopez, it’s a way to break down barriers to provide better medical care. For Madeleine Hall, it’s a path to understanding, and teaching about, other cultures.

Kahn, Lopez and Hall, all recipients of a Critical Language Scholarship, are among the WVU students receiving a record 30 global, prestigious scholarships and fellowships to support their dreams of researching and making contributions to science, learning new languages, teaching abroad, studying different cultures and forming solutions to critical world issues.

The Critical Language Scholarship provides a fully funded summer overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. The program is offered by the U.S. Department of State and assists in the education of critical languages and relationship building between the U.S. and other countries.

Khan, a first year medical student in the School of Medicine, will travel to India to study a language close to home – Urdu, the national language of Pakistan and spoken by more than 65 million people in India. Khan, from Beckley, grew up exposed to the language through her parents, who speak it – but she’s not so fluent.

Khan has relatives in Pakistan who operate free clinics for the underprivileged. With her focus on internal medicine, Khan wants to be able to speak more fluently in the native language before volunteering.

“They talk about the difficulties they have there, including the need for more women doctors,” Khan said. “I tell them I’d like to come and help them, but I was worried my Urdu skills weren’t there. It’s a language not many people know about, so it can be harder to learn. CLS seemed like the perfect opportunity for this.”

With a better grip on the language, Khan hopes to break down communication and social barriers to provide the best care possible.

Lopez, a senior international studies major with an emphasis in international business, is currently in Jordan as part of the Boren Scholarship, another language education program.

As part of his CLS award, he will travel to Morocco to continue his Arabic language training.

Lopez, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, wants to use his language skills to become a physician specializing in global health and humanitarian aid. After spending a year in Jordan, he admits he has a long way to go in his language education.

“It is always useful for a physician to learn new languages. Especially in the field of global health, language skills enable doctors to treat a wide range of people and collaborate with others from around the world,” Lopez said. “While in Amman, Jordan, I worked in a refugee healthcare clinic where English is rarely spoken. If I did not have language skills, I would not have been able to have this experience.”

Lopez joined the refugee clinic in January, after working with the United Nations Refugee Agency. There, he is able to experience refugee care firsthand and also develop his language skills. He also plays for a Jordanian flag football team while also helping coach at schools on weekends.

Hall, a sophomore history and international studies major from Wheeling, will travel to Oman to study Arabic. At WVU, she’s studying the history and politics of the Middle East with a view to get a doctorate in Middle Eastern history.

To conduct primary source research, she has to be able to read and write Arabic.

Though she originally thought she would pursue 20th century Russian history, Hall read the graphic novel “Persepolis,” chronicling a girl’s life growing up during the Iranian revolution in the ‘70s.

“Contemporary Middle Eastern history is complicated, interesting and sort of chronically misunderstood,” Hall said. “I got really drawn to the subject. The Critical Language Scholarship was an excellent way to get immersed in the language.”

In addition to her CLS studies this summer, Hall will also travel to Amman, Jordan as part of the Boren Scholarship.

-WVU-