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Students without borders

Doctors Without Borders hopeful awarded Critical Language Scholarship

 Biology major Olivia Lopez will travel to Azerbaijan this summer to learn Turkish as a part of the U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship program. Photo by Kylie Henson

Story and photos by Kylie Henson

Second chances are embraced as part of the culture at MSU Denver, and biology student Olivia Lopez just got her break. After having to withdraw from a high school scholarship to Turkey because of an illness, she was recently granted the Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. Department of State.

The scholarship is funded and awarded by the U.S. Department of State in an effort to expand the number of Americans learning and mastering critical foreign languages and allow students to be immersed in extraordinary cultures. Since Turkey is in midst of conflict, Lopez will be traveling to Baku, Azerbaijan, to learn Turkish over the summer.

We sat down with Lopez for a quick Q&A to discuss the Critical Language Scholarship and her goals for the future.

What sparked your interest in applying for the Critical Language Scholarship?

Olivia Lopez: I went to Turkey in high school through a similar scholarship program, and I ended up having to leave early because I got really sick. I really wanted to get back to Turkey because I had a host family there that I just adored and I wanted to be able to communicate with them better. I knew that (Turkey) was the region that I wanted to be in. So I chose Turkish because I had a background in it and I am passionate about the country and the people.

Biology major Olivia Lopez will travel to Azerbaijan this summer to learn Turkish as a part of the U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship program. Photo by Kylie Henson

What are some of the challenges you faced when applying for the scholarship?

OL: There is a lot of essay writing, probably like four or five essays. And the biggest thing for me was the health aspect. Once I got accepted, I had to fill out multiple health forms. … But other than that, I think like 10 percent of applicants get in, so it was just a little nerve-wracking since it was over an extended period of time.

What are your ultimate career goals?  

OL: After college, I would love to do a stint with the Peace Corps and then go to medical school. Ultimately, I want to be a surgeon of some sort, like GI (gastrointestinal) or a colorectal surgeon because I have a lot of GI issues, so it’s close to home. But I’d love to do Doctors Without Borders and work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Biology major Olivia Lopez will travel to Azerbaijan this summer to learn Turkish as a part of the U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship program. Photo by Kylie Henson

What advice do you have for Roadrunners who are interested in applying for this scholarship in the future?

OL: Mainly focus and work on your application. Don’t just bang it out in one night and send it in. I spent probably two months on mine, so really think about your answers and make it clear that you have a reason to study this language in the future, and in a way that could be applicable and helpful to the government because that’s who’s funding it.

What are you most excited about? And why is this experience important to you?

OL: Honestly, I’m just excited to get out of the country for a couple of months. I mean, I do love it here, but it’s just nice to take a breather and get away from what you know because it makes you appreciate it a little bit more. And I just love traveling. And particularly just because of the language (Turkish), that’s super-exciting. This trip is important to me because I left my other scholarship program early. I thought that would be my last go at studying abroad. … So to get a scholarship again, it was actually a big thing for me because it’s redemption.