Three UAB students win Critical Language Scholarships

Three students will spend the summer studying in China, South Korea and India.

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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critical languages 2018From left: Kaitlin McLeod, Lillian Chien and Ayla McCayLillian Chien, a 2018 UAB graduate who earned bachelor's degrees in neuroscience and international studies, Ayla McCay, a sophomore majoring in international studies, and Kaitlin McLeod, a junior neuroscience major, have been selected for the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship program.

This nationally competitive program is a fully funded summer overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. The purpose of the program is to increase the number of students studying and mastering critical languages and building relationships with people in other countries. With an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent, the Critical Language Scholarship is one of the most competitive scholarships in the United States and the most prestigious language program for U.S. students. Last year, approximately 600 scholarships were awarded for 14 languages.

Chien, an alumna of the UAB Honors College University Honors Program and UAB Early Medical School Acceptance Program, will spend the summer studying Chinese in Dalian, China.

“I hope to become a physician and practice medicine in areas with heavy populations of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants,” said Chien, a Reno, Nevada native. “Studying Chinese through CLS will allow me to better communicate with these patients.”

McCay, a Birmingham, Alabama native, is also pursuing a minor in psychology. She is a student in the UAB Honors College Global Community Leadership program and will study Korean in Busan, South Korea.  

“My ultimate goal is to work in human rights advocacy,” McCay said. “I hope to get a master’s in public policy and potentially a juris doctorate. I have a particular interest in international law and have spent the past year doing research on the human rights crisis in North Korea. I think a current trend in social justice and human rights is to speak up about issues without actually involving yourself in the lives of those affected. It’s very important to me that I become proximate to the people and situations I am advocating for. Studying in Korea will allow me to have a much deeper understanding of the language and culture of the people whose voices I intend to elevate.” 

McLeod, a student in the UAB Honors College pursuing a personalized path, will study Bangla in Kolkata, India. McLeod, a Knoxville, Tennessee native, is also pursuing minors in Spanish and chemistry.

“My goal is to become a physician and to devote part of my career to medical mission trips, both in the U.S. and abroad,” McLeod said. “The CLS program will open new doors for me as I gain communication skills with people who do not speak the same language as I do.” 

Nineteen UAB students have been selected for the scholarship since 2007.