Three West Virginia University students have earned the opportunity to study abroad this summer through the esteemed Critical Language Scholarship.

Nicholas Amos, Holly McCleery and Emily Morgan will travel across the world this June to spend two months immersed in another language. McCleery and Morgan are students in the Chinese program, while Amos is studying Arabic. All three, however, stemmed an interest in language through their love of challenges and new experiences.

“Emily, Holly and Nicholas are just the type of students that Critical Language Scholarship is looking for, because they don’t just want to master a critical language for the challenge of it, but, instead, have clear goals of using their language skills in their future careers,” said Cate Johnson, program coordinator for the ASPIRE Office at WVU. “They are also all high-achieving, driven and committed students: exactly the right recipe for a CLS scholar.”

Amos, McCleery and Morgan were selected out of more than 5,500 applications from more than 650 colleges and universities in the U.S. WVU has had nine Critical Language Scholars since 2010. This is the second time that the University has had three in a year.

Though they may have started their studies for a challenge, they all came to love their languages and developed different reasons for continuing with them.

For Amos, studying Arabic stemmed from curiosity of the unknown and ties to the language through his Arabic-speaking friends, but what he’s done with the language comes from a place much deeper.

Originally from southern California, Amos moved to Braxton County when he was 14 years old. There, his life changed forever. He was faced with a new climate, different people and the isolation of living in the middle of nowhere, seven miles from the nearest gas station.

"Nicholas is well on his way to learning Arabic, but knows that he needs to be fluent when he graduates from WVU's program for Teaching English as a Second Language because he plans to immediately move to the Middle East to teach English. He'll get an excellent foundation for his Arabic language skills through the CLS program."

--Cate Johnson, ASPIRE Office

Amos experienced severe culture shock in the transition, and went into a deep depression. He struggled with his new home and fell further into despair. After nine months of this, he reached his breaking point: Amos had to make a choice about how, or if, he was going to continue his life, and his decision shaped his entire future.

“I recognized just how alone you can feel just because you don’t understand the people around you,” Amos said. “With that, I feel like I was gifted with a unique passion for helping others who are experiencing culture shock. That was a seed that was planted in me in my teenage years.”

He wants to take his experiences of loneliness and cultural concern to help other people. Currently in his second year in graduate school, he’s studying Teaching English as a Second Language and plans to move to the Arabian Gulf, particularly Oman, to teach English there, hoping to eventually work on diplomacy between the U.S. and Middle East.

WVU's Critical Language Scholars

- 2010 Amy Cheung

- 2012 Stefni Richards

- 2012 Joseph Ta

- 2012 Cody White

- 2013 Stephanie Khoo

- 2013 Jared Leggett

- 2014 Nicholas Amos

- 2014 Holly McCleery

- 2014 Emily Morgan

“I remembered how I felt when I was a foreigner and I remember my experience when I first moved to West Virginia, and all of that culminated into a really strong motivation to help others who are foreigners feel at home here and let them know that they’re cared about, and we appreciate them,” he said.

With the Critical Language Scholarship, Amos will be traveling to Nizwa, Oman.

“To know that I’ve spent so much time in this and not really understand why— it’s more been a heart decision, where I don’t have much logic to explain the reasons why I just started studying Arabic so strongly—I feel like it’s a little wink, ‘yea you’re on the right track, continue with this,’” he said.

McCleery, a senior majoring in international studies and Chinese studies, stuck with the language because of her passion for the people there. As a child, McCleery’s family lived in Beijing for three years, beginning when she was nine, so she experienced a unique lifestyle.

“I remember trying to copy all the Chinese people we’d see in the streets riding with two people on the bikes. When my brother and I would go outside to play, we would always try to do that,” she said.

She attended an international school there and stayed in a gated community, experiencing a different lifestyle than most in China. Despite this, she still spent lots of time around her Chinese compatriots and fell in love with the country.

"Holly rightly understands that fluency in Chinese is essential for her goal to attend graduate school in China and then one day work on Chinese issues in the intelligence community or with the Foreign Service. There is no better way to obtain that fluency than immersion."

--Cate Johnson, ASPIRE Office

Since spending what she calls the best years of her childhood in China, she has returned to the country several times, including last spring for a semester abroad in Qingdao. McCleery plans to move to China, at least for the short-term, and hopes to get into a master’s program there.

McCleery is excited to be heading back to China this summer, this time to the southeastern region of the country. This will give her the opportunity to focus exclusively on her Chinese studies, rather than having to juggle other classes and activities.

“I had four months when I went there last time, and it was not enough time, so these two months will definitely be a great experience,” she said. “It will be a good program that will give me the intensive, immersive environment that I want; it’ll propel my language forward.”

Also studying Chinese, Morgan is enamored with the way others see culture.

“When you’re writing characters, the character for ‘good’ is made up of the character for ‘woman’ and the character for ‘child,’ so the Chinese idea of ‘good’ is a woman with a child. It’s just really fascinating to get an insight into a culture that’s so incredibly different than ours,” she said.

Though she’s been to China twice before with the WVU Chinese Program, Morgan hasn’t had enough of it yet. The junior double major in biology and Chinese hopes to one day fully immerse herself in the culture by studying, living and working there.

"Emily's goal of becoming fluent in Chinese is tied to her goal of conducting public health research in China during graduate school. She recognizes similarities between China's rural geography and that of her home state of West Virginia and she hopes to gain insights into women's health, particularly cervical cancer screening, that she can bring back to use here."

--Cate Johnson, ASPIRE Office

Using her unique mix of majors, Morgan wants to work in China in a research capacity, studying public health. Additionally, she hopes to fill the need for English-speaking research assistants who can proofread proposals, written in English, so they are more likely to be accepted. Doing all of this will give Morgan the opportunity to bring more affordable, reliable healthcare to the people of China. She will travel to Suzhou, China with the Critical Language Scholarship.

Earning the Critical Language Scholarship has been a tremendous confidence boost for Morgan, something to validate her love for the Chinese culture and her uncommon major combination.

“I’ve always kind of had doubts,” Morgan admitted. “Can I be successful doing both of these things? Am I going to end up leaving one of my majors by the wayside? I knew it was really competitive, and so for me this was kind of the test of ‘Can I be successful with Chinese?’ Getting the scholarship has proven to me that yeah, I can be.”

Started in 2006, the Critical Language Scholarship program of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers fully funded intensive overseas study in 13 different critical need foreign languages.

The selection process is administered by American Councils for International Education with awards approved by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


By Mary Lemine
University Relations/News


CONTACT: University Relations/News

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.