This summer, seven West Virginia University students are receiving the Critical Language Scholarship, part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering 13 critical-need foreign languages.

These languages include Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

The scholarship provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences for seven to ten weeks for U.S. citizen undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students.

The WVU recipients include:

Ellen McDonald, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, received undergraduate degrees in both anthropology and Russian studies in May. She is attending Bashkir State Pedagogical University in Ufa, Russia. She began studying Russian as an undergraduate in 2008 because she wanted to challenge herself and be open to other cultures. McDonald also took three years of Latin and two years of Spanish.

“Learning a different language has always been something I’ve been good at and interested in, but like anything else, it takes dedicated practice to become skilled,” McDonald said. “Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can instantly hear a language and pick it up. It takes practice.”

In the future, McDonald wants to obtain a job with a private company or the government that allows her to research how products could be better marketed in Russian-speaking areas.

Skyler Minke from Wiley Ford, W.Va., is an undergraduate senior majoring in international studies and political science. He is studying Russian in Kazan, Russia, at the Kazan Institute of the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Minke began studying Russian because he was interested in the culture and the relationship between the United States and Russia. He is looking forward to improving his language skills, both oral and written, experiencing the culture with a host family, participating in a cruise up the Volga River to the city of Nizhny Novgorod, and visiting a dacha, a Russian summer cottage.

“You have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone with many things, including food, which is something I struggle with because I’m such a picky eater,” Minke said. “Patience and politeness are two key factors that one needs in almost every foreign culture.”

After completing his undergraduate degree, Minke is considering graduate school or the Peace Corps. Ultimately, he would like to work for the State Department as a foreign service officer.

Aaron Murdock is an international studies major from Shepherdstown, W.Va. He is studying Arabic in Tunis, Tunisia, at the School for International Training.

Murdock began studying Arabic after attending the WVU Muslim Student Association’s free Arabic and Islam classes on campus. Although he struggled to learn languages in the past, he fell in love with Arabic and the culture of the Middle East. He said his biggest obstacle with Arabic is the alphabet and learning to read and write from right to left.

He is looking forward to traveling to Tataouine, not only for the Berber culture, but also to visit the desert scenes captured in the first and fourth Star Wars episodes. After graduation, Murdock would like to work for the government dealing with Middle Eastern or African affairs.

William “Nick” Shelton, a native of Mullens, W.Va., has a degree in political science from WVU and is working toward a master’s degree in public administration. He is studying Punjabi in Chandigaran, India, at the American Institute of Indian Studies. Shelton is interested in conflict studies, and national security and its use in both India and Pakistan.

“Traveling is important to me because there is no better education than experience. It allows you to gain an understanding of a people and culture you could never obtain in a classroom,” said Shelton.

He feels that this experience will make him more competitive in the job market and will give him a better understanding of the region. He plans to pursue a job in government or with a non-governmental organization working in the region.

Joshua Sorenson is from Lewiston, N.Y. He will be a senior criminology and Russian studies major this fall. He is studying Russian in Ufa, Russia, at Bashkir State Pedagogical University.

“I chose to learn Russian in college because I felt the language is misunderstood. With dedication and hard work, I knew I would be able to succeed because of my interest,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson studied Russian at WVU for two years. He is excited to experience the daily lives of students like himself and be immersed in a new culture. He wants to come back to the states feeling confident and comfortable with speaking and understanding the Russian language. Upon his return, he plans to apply for the Fulbright award to study in in St. Petersburg. After graduation, he hopes to attend graduate school for Russian studies and eventually work for the United States government as an analyst on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Joseph Ta is an undergraduate from Charleston, W.Va., majoring in international studies. He is studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing, China, at The Alliance for Global Education at Beijing Language and Culture University.

Cody White, an undergraduate mechanical engineering and Russian studies major with a minor in Spanish is from Charleston, W.Va. He is studying Russian in Vladmir, Russia, at KORA Russian Language Center.

White previously traveled to Russia on a Boren Scholarship as an exchange student at Moscow State University and has been an English and math teacher in Moscow. This trip, he is looking forward to living with a host family, something he has not done in Russia before, and exploring new areas while admiring the culture.

“One of the many things I love about Russia is the feeling of being at home,” White said.

White likes being able to use the roots of one language to understand another that he is not as familiar with because he finds it important to be able to communicate when traveling. After graduation, he would like to work for the government on issues of national security or work for an American engineering company associated with the Russian oil industry.

The Critical Language Scholarship program began in 2006 to increase the study of languages that the U.S. government believes to be of critical importance. Since then, the program had significantly grown with 631 scholarships awarded for 13 different languages.

For more information, contact Lisa Di Bartolomeo, at 304-293-8309 or



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