Olivia Wong

boren profiles

Olivia Wong

2012 Boren Scholarships

University of California, Santa Barbara

Japanese, Japan

International Relations

I was raised in a household that spoke Cantonese and Toisan (a dialect of Cantonese spoken in the southern provinces of China). Since my grandfather was born in Shanghai, lived in Rio de Janeiro and raised my mother in Hong Kong, I was often exposed to the Brazilian and Chinese cultures as a child. I have always had a passion for languages as a result of this diverse linguistic and ethnic background.

In high school, I received a scholarship to live in Brazil for six months, where I learned a significant amount of Portuguese. I was also able to pick up Japanese, since São Paulo is home to a large Japanese community. This experience, combined with my interest in nuclear issues, inspired my decision to apply for the Boren Scholarship to study in Japan. Before going to Japan, I was interning at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to eliminate all nuclear weapons. I was not deterred from my study abroad plans when the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant underwent damage in March 2011.

In July 2011, I enrolled in a Japanese immersion program at Keio University in Tokyo, which consisted of core language acquisition classes and specialized subject courses. Outside of class, I spoke with Japanese citizens and foreigners about their experiences with the March 11 disasters and compiled this data to write a thesis. In addition, in order to increase my language proficiency, I immersed myself in the local culture by living with local residents in a shared housing complex and volunteering at a local elementary school and day-care. In the spring of 2011, I also furthered my language skills and cultural understanding through volunteering with a Japanese NPO and disaster relief taskforce in Fukushima. 

While in Japan, I received an additional grant from the Jeanine Anderson Memorial Foundation and the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) to research the effects of the nuclear accident on Japanese society and attend the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama, Japan. Gaining more experience with nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament movements in Japan is critical for my future aspirations in the Bureau of Non-Proliferation and Arms Control within the State Department. I hope to be a diplomat or nuclear non-proliferation advisor for the East-Asian bloc.

If I could give advice to future applicants, it would be to carefully research their prospective programs and countries. It will help you understand your prospective country’s relationships with the U.S. in regards to national security. In addition, the more you learn about your country and program, the greater chance you will have to quickly acclimate to your new surroundings. Thorough research will also allow you to take advantage of all of the unique yet overlooked opportunities to develop language proficiency.

Written: February 2012

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