Virginia Commonwealth University seniors Lama Elsadig Elsharif, at left, and Coleman “Cole” Williams have earned prestigious Critical Language Scholarships to study abroad this summer. Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

VCU students earn Critical Language Scholarships to study Arabic, Hindi

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Two Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate students have earned prestigious Critical Language Scholarships to study abroad this summer.

Lama Elsadig Elsharif, a political science major with a concentration in international relations, and Coleman “Cole” Williams, a religious studies major, both in the College of Humanities and Sciences, will spend the summer abroad in intensive language study.

“Critical Language Scholars such as Lama and Cole provide an important service to our nation in a complex global society,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU. “We know their curiosity and record of scholarly achievement here at VCU will serve them well as they set out across the world.”

Elsharif, a senior from Dumfries, Virginia, will study Arabic this summer in Madaba, Jordan. She is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, the VCU Pre-Law Society, the VCU Muslim Student Association, the VCU Arab Student Association and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She will continue her studies at the University of London this fall.

She credits a friend who improved her Arabic skills through the Critical Language Scholarship program with inspiring her to apply for the scholarship.

“I grew up speaking the language with my parents, and last year I went to Morocco and studied Arabic,” Elsharif said. “I just want to continue my studies, and hopefully in the future I’ll be able to combine Arabic with my profession.”

Coleman “Cole” Williams, at left, and Lama Elsadig Elsharif.
Coleman “Cole” Williams, at left, and Lama Elsadig Elsharif.

Williams, who graduates this month, will study Hindi in Jaipur, India, this summer. He is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and plans to attend graduate school after the program.

“As I gained an interest in South Asia and an understanding of Indian religions and cultures, I realized the importance of language in my research focus,” Williams said. “The CLS program for Hindi was a logical step in my academic journey, offering generous funding and an opportunity for cultural and linguistic immersion.”

The Critical Language Scholarship Program is part of a government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. It provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. Participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

The applicants worked with VCU’s National Scholarship Office to apply for the Critical Language Scholarships. The office supports VCU alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships. Interested students and alumni can contact VCU’s National Scholarship Office at or 804-828-6868.