Ranju Dhungana, a senior at the University of North Dakota, was born in a Nepali refugee camp after her parents fled from Bhutan amid civil unrest and violence. Young Dhungana spoke Nepali but music in the camp exposed her to Hindi, the primary language of neighboring India.
When she moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, at 11 years old, music once again helped Dhungana get a handle on a language—this time, English—and later, to master it. But Dhungana is not pursuing music or a language major at UND. Instead she is studying psychology with a pre-health focus.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to go into medicine,” Dhungana says.
Her motivation stems from the loss of her father, who died in the refugee camp due to a lack of antitoxin for a snake bite. Medical services, both in supplies and personnel, were especially hard to come by. At that time, communication was pivotal but not easy, either.
Drawing on her experience and determined to best serve patients one day, Dhungana is actively improving her Hindi proficiency. This summer, she became UND’s latest recipient of the acclaimed Critical Language Scholarship, a competitive language program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Due to the pandemic, instead of traveling to the Indian state of Rajasthan for an immersive program, Dhungana embarked on a 10-week program of online coursework in Hindi.
“My goal is to be able to speak with people who would normally require an interpreter,” she says. “People feel more secure in having that connection with a nurse or doctor, and they’re more open to talking about things.” Dhungana has also been using the language program Rosetta Stone to sharpen her skills. She has been part of UND’s Indian Association, where she interacts with native speakers. Moreover, the Honors Program has helped her form relationships and gain global knowledge.
“The Honors Program has provided me the tools to connect with other individuals to build a sense of community,” Dhungana says. “It has also motivated me to be more aware about global events.”
Additionally, she says, “I’m looking forward to what’s ahead, and being able to learn a language during this pandemic is going to help me in my future.” And, for now, the future leads to the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, where Dhungana hopes to start her studies next year.
Learn more about Dhungana and other Leaders in Action at UND.edu/leaders.