Approaching Global Health through language and culture

Published November 04, 2014 under Education News

Kundalini Yoga Session

After a successful 2-year pilot, the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) Initiative has officially launched in classrooms. As one of Dean Laurie Patton’s special initiatives, CLAC, a framework for incorporating international content into Duke courses, kicked off this fall with the Voices in Global Health course. Conducted this semester in Hindi, the course allows students to practice their foreign language skills outside of a traditional language course by examining current issues in global health. 

During the current Voices in Global Health-Hindi course, students have focused on how different beliefs influence health care choices and how the resulting behaviors can impact health disparities. To expand their perspective, they participated in a Kundalini yoga session, visited an Indian store to study medicinal foods, Skyped with a practitioner in Dubai, and attended a lecture by a local Indian doctor. These hands-on, personalized opportunities allow students to understand how culture impacts global health. 



“Language and culture can bring so much into this conversation,” said Deborah Reisinger, Director of the CLAC initiative and affiliate faculty in Global Health. “[In these classes,] we actively turn our ear to the populations we study. Instead of talking about them, we are listening to them, which greatly enriches our understanding of the issues.”

With a focus on both language and culture, the course helps students build the vocabulary relevant to a global context, allowing the language use to be appropriate to each student’s own path. The flexible and interactive class lets the diversity in the students’ backgrounds shape their learning experience and enhances the relationships formed. 

“It’s a class I really look forward to coming to,” said one Duke undergraduate, ’16. “It is a learning environment that is very different from all other classes.”

“The way the class is structured into a half credit course and being different in the set-up allows me to experiment [with the language],” offered another undergrad, ’16. “This provides a safe space to have that practice and try something new. You have a double incentive to be in this class; you are learning about global health and you are learning a language.”

Over the past five years, Duke has offered the Voices in Global Health courses in Arabic, French, Hindi, Mandarin, and Spanish. The success of these courses and students’ positive feedback has allowed Voices in Global Health to officially launch the larger context of CLAC, allowing many more students at Duke to apply their knowledge of languages in a variety of curricular contexts. 

The initiative aims to fund five courses per year, which will be determined by students’ request. This spring Duke will offer Mandarin and Arabic courses, followed by Swahili next academic year. Learn more about CLAC and stay updated on the current courses on their website. 

Watch the video to learn more about Deborah Reisinger's involvment in Voices in Global Health and hear what the students say about the course. 


It’s a class I really look forward to coming to. It is a learning environment that is very different from all other classes.

Duke undergraduate, '16