West Virginia University’s recent success of preparing students to become Fulbright Scholars continues, as three Mountaineers received the prestigious grant this year.
Farrah El-Khatib, a senior exercise physiology major from Hurricane, W.Va.; Mary Harper, a first-year grad student in Teaching English as a Second Language from Charleston, W.Va.; and Lakyn Hose, a senior dual international studies and foreign languages major from Martinsburg, W.Va., grow WVU’s list of Fulbright Scholarship recipients to 39.
This is the third straight year that WVU has had at least three Fulbright Scholars. Fulbright Scholarships have been awarded to 13 students from the University since 2011, the best four-year total in history.
El-Khatib, Harper and Hose received notification from the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in the past month they had been chosen. They have not been awarded grants yet. The trio joins a significant group of scholars, including 44 Nobel Prize winners.
“Cross-cultural understanding becomes more important every year. I am proud that WVU students value this skill set and serve as ambassadors to the world through the Fulbright awards they earn,” said Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of the leadership studies program at WVU. “Students who win nationally competitive scholarships highlight the talent of our student body and the strong education they receive at WVU.”
The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.
The program operates in more than 155 countries around the world. An estimated 325,400 individuals have participated in Fulbright programs since 1946.
While her mother and father worked so hard to emigrate from their home countries of Lebanon and Egypt, respectively, to America, El-Khatib joked that she’s trying to make her way back to the Eastern World.
WVU Fulbright Scholars since 2011Hayley Leight 2011
Lisa Beans 2012
Jeremy Munza 2012
Stefni Richards 2012
Danielle Capano 2012
Alanna Markle 2012
Vlad Basarab 2013
Chelsea Hodgkins 2013
Jessica "Brie" Kawalek 2013
Michael Morris 2013
Farrah El Khatib 2014
Mary Harper 2014
Lakyn Hose 2014
To see all of WVU's Fulbright Scholars, click here.
She will be spending 10 months in Malaysia where she will be teaching English and American culture to students.
“I thought it would be really interesting to see how another country that practices Islam and experience their culture,” she said. “It’s the same religion, but in a different place – so a new experience, new region, new culture.”
Her mother left for America to escape a civil war in Lebanon, and her father left Egypt for his medical residency. They met and settled in outside of Charleston, where El-Khatib and her family joined only a handful of Muslims.
“There’s this mix of cultures; I have influences of Lebanese and Egyptian and American and Appalachian,” she said. “I’ve grown up with all of these. And Malaysia is in a sense, the same way. It has Indonesia, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian. I’m drawn to the mixture of cultures.”
Before her trek across the Pacific Ocean, El-Khatib will be joining 4,300 other WVU students this month as she receives her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from the School of Medicine with a minor in leadership studies. Ultimately, she would like to pursue medical school to become a healthcare provider.
Her minor, though, was the catalyst for the trip overseas.
“I took a leadership class just as a general requirement, but fell in love with learning about theory and problems in leadership,” she said. “One leadership professor, Ben Brooks, mentioned that he was a Fulbright Fellow and went to Hungary. He said if you have teaching experience to let him know and he would help with the process,” she said.
"I have influences of Lebanese and Egyptian and American and Appalachian. I've grown up with all of these. And Malaysia is in a sense, the same way. It has Indonesia, Chinese, Indian and Malaysian."
— Farrah El-Khatib
A teaching opportunity sparked El-Khatib’s interest. A few summers ago, El-Khatib worked with WVU Extension Service as a STEM ambassador to help engage in hands-on science, technology, engineering and math projects at summer camps across the state.
“The summer program made me really, really interested in teaching,” El-Khatib said. “So, when this opportunity came up, I knew it would be a great chance to be able to help out and learn a little something, too.”
She is looking forward to new experiences, forged connections and different places. But she’s most excited about the learning experience.
“Whether it’s with exercise physiology where you are teaching people about how to care for their bodies or teaching English, the exchange of knowledge is still happening,” she said. “I hope I can gain a better cultural understanding of different places and bring some of that back, too.”
When Harper was in high school, a family from Iran moved into her Charleston neighborhood.
She became friends with the two daughters who picked up English at school. The three of them could converse. But Harper was not able to have conversations with their parents. And she wanted to change that.
“My friends’ parents were super nice, really nice people, and they loved me, and they were always really hospitable,” Harper said. “But I couldn’t communicate with them, and I wanted to be able to talk to them.”
So she learned Farsi.
Since then, Harper has broadened her interest in other languages and cultures. She’s traveled to Turkey twice with a Critical Language Scholarship, and will now be spending a year in Turkey teaching English at a yet to be determined university as part of her Fulbright award.
Her journey of learning Turkish began when – prompted by her experience with her neighbors – she volunteered while an undergraduate at Marshall University to be a conversation partner with a student learning English. That student was from Turkey.
Harper eventually visited her conversation partner at her home along the Aegean Sea in Izmir, Turkey. She loved it.
"You can deepen friendships and relationships by speaking somebody's first language."
— Mary Harper
While traveling has been enjoyable, it’s been her exposure to people from other countries at home and abroad that has prompted her to pursue a graduate degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.
She said people need motivation to learn another language. It was her desire to connect with specific people that led her to learn Farsi, and she’s continued to learn more about people as she learns their languages.
Harper said the concept of connecting to people through their language is described in a Nelson Mandela quote: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Language has helped her to connect with others from Charleston to Turkey.
“You can deepen friendships and relationships by speaking somebody’s first language,” Harper said.
We hear a lot about China and its education system. The general perception is that they produce the brightest, hardest-working students in the world.
But, as Hose found out in her studies at WVU, a colossal education gap divides the overachieving urbanites from rural Chinese youth whom she says have less than a 3 percent chance of going to college.
The Martinsburg native wants to change that.
“It’s interesting how students in Shanghai are the top math students in the world, but elsewhere in rural China, those kids are less likely to go to college,” she said. “I feel that I can be that one person who can help improve that – to help students who don’t have access to education.”
Hose came to WVU unsure of what she wanted to study. She took a Chinese 101 class to fulfill a general education course. But, as it turns out, that class and the professor, Huey Hannah Lin, gave her college career a new purpose.
“I never had an interest in China until that class,” Hose said. “Dr. Lin is an amazing teacher who changed my career path and changed my life. That Chinese 101 class gave me a real plan.”
"It's interesting how students in Shanghai are the top math students in the world, but elsewhere in rural China, those kids are less likely to go to college. I feel that I can be that one person who can help improve that."
— Lakyn Hose
Hose then became a dual major in international studies and foreign languages, specifically Chinese.
After graduating in May, Hose will travel to China for 11 months and help teach English to elementary and junior high students.
It won’t be her first trip there, as she has spent time studying abroad in Taipei, Taiwan and Beijing, China.
It will also afford her an opportunity to perfect her foreign language skills.
“I’m excited to improve my proficiency in Mandarin while helping students improve their English,” Hose said.
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