2011 Boren Scholarships
University of Kansas
I first heard about Boren from a Fellow who gave a presentation at my university about his experience in Central Europe. I believed Boren could give me in-country experience, enhance my language abilities and allow me to pursue a meaningful career in the government. Since I am writing a comparative dissertation in history that focuses on my hometown of Pittsburgh and its sister city Donet’sk, I selected Donet’sk, Ukraine as the location of my studies. I had studied Ukrainian for two years and Russian for four years, and since Donet’sk is located in a Russian speaking region of Ukraine, it was an excellent city for my research and study of the two languages.
While overseas, I did research in local, regional and national libraries and archives. My research assessed social, religious and educational organizations and their impact on immigrant populations in eastern Ukraine. I also enrolled in Ukrainian language classes at Donet’sk National University. In my free time, I volunteered at the U.S. Department of State's Window on America Center. My language skills have significantly improved as a result of these activities and also from just living abroad. Having to converse in a variety of situations, such as talking to the repair man about a leaking washing machine or discussing visa registration with local authorities, broadened my vocabulary and gave me more confidence in my language abilities.
I also made friends who showed me how to prepare popular local dishes. We had conversations about the similarities and differences between our cultures, which gave me a greater understanding of how cross-cultural communication and exchange can benefit individuals and societies. Similarly, at the Window on America Center's English club, we talked about topics of concern to Ukrainians and also about American education and pop culture. We even celebrated Halloween and Valentine's Day because my friends in the U.S. sent me candy and decorations.
My Boren experience was one of the most rewarding, but challenging, experiences of my life. I was the only Boren Fellow in Ukraine, and one of a few Americans living in Donet’sk, so I worked hard to build lasting relationships with local Ukrainians. These friendships allowed me to immerse myself in the culture and learn new things. My Boren experience gave me the opportunity to be truly independent in my program of study, allowing me to purse a language program tailored to my needs and structure my research around questions that interest me.
My advice to future applicants is to be open to new experiences and people, try your best to immerse yourself in the language and culture, and maintain a positive attitude. Even when things may go wrong, don't forget how fortunate you are to be living and researching abroad for an extended period of time.
I just returned from Ukraine and plan to complete my service requirement as a translator. Eventually I hope to pursue a career as a Foreign Affairs Specialist, Intelligence Operations Specialist or a Public Affairs Specialist. I'd be happy with any career that allows me to use my knowledge of Eastern Europe and my Ukrainian and Russian language abilities.
Written: July 2012