Kate Wilkinson

boren profiles

Kate Wilkinson

2009 Boren Fellowships

George Washington University

Persian, Tajikistan

International Relations

I heard about the Boren Fellowship while working on my graduate degree in international affairs, with a focus on security and development. I was interested in the non-Arab Muslim world, and Persian was a natural fit for me, because it is a less-commonly studied language that I thought there would be a lot of use for, and I had an interest in Iran and Afghanistan.

While a Boren Fellow, I participated in a language program for 4.5 hours a day with one-on-one tutors from Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, which exposed me to multiple dialects of Persian. I also held an internship with a non-profit that provides comprehensive services for girls who have been victims of abuse. They needed someone to build a monitoring and evaluation system and, even though I had never done that before, I read as much as possible about it and built them the framework. In addition, I conducted a research project on the role of microfinance institutions in promoting women’s economic empowerment in Tajikistan. Along with a colleague, I interviewed women in the villages about their knowledge of financial transactions. Not only did this test my language skills, it also challenged me to examine the role of culture, gender, and education.

Along with my language study, internship, and research, I volunteered teaching an English class once a week and visited orphanages. I lived with a host family, participated in cultural celebrations, and tried to make friends in the community. I think becoming involved in the community really enriched my experience. I also had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who worked at the Embassy, and I asked questions that helped me to better understand the job market for people in my field and how I would like to fulfill my service requirement.

After completing my Boren Fellowship, I was a Bridge Award Fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research, where I worked to support their national programs and planned conferences and various symposia. During this time, I also completed the research I started while on my Boren Fellowship.

I believe that going to a non-traditional country really pays off. As a Boren Fellow, I developed language skills that opened an entire new job market for me. Out of all the jobs I applied for, most of them wanted me because of my Persian ability. I now have a position with the Department of State on a Provincial Reconstruction Team as a field engagement team advisor. I am on the ground in Afghanistan, which is exactly where I wanted to be. In my position, I will be a liaison with community leaders and collaborate with Afghan counterparts to strengthen the local government. I am excited to be using my language skills to do a job that I think will really make a difference. 

Written: October 2011

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