Valerie Oliphant

boren profiles

Valerie Oliphant

2011 Boren Fellowships

Georgetown University

Yoruba, Nigeria

International Relations

When I started looking into the Boren Awards, I knew I wanted to choose a program in West Africa. I studied abroad in Ghana in 2007 and found the country really fascinating. While I had enjoyed my time there, I wanted to experience another culture. I ultimately decided to study in Nigeria for several reasons. I have been focusing my graduate studies on women’s involvement in peace processes and nonviolence movements, and Nigeria provides an interesting case study. I found a non-governmental institution that focuses on conflict resolution that was willing to host me as an intern. I also felt that completing a Boren Fellowship in Nigeria would greatly improve my effectiveness and ability to work in Western Africa. Nigeria remains an important stronghold and strategic partner for U.S. interests in Africa, which aligns with my career aspirations of working for the U.S. Government.

So far, my overall Boren experience has been really positive. This first semester, I am enrolled in the African Languages Initiative program, and I am focused on learning Yoruba. I am also beginning my research on women’s involvement in peace processes. In Nigeria, there has been violent conflict between Christian and Muslim groups. The Yoruba are an interesting case study because the population is evenly split between those that identify as Christian and those that identify as Muslim. I would like to see how and if women's status in these two groups affects their ability to mitigate violence and promote peace. In the spring, I will continue my studies of Yoruba, and I will also hold an internship with an NGO that helps to retrain combatants in the Niger Delta to be mediators.

I have many opportunities to use the language outside of my academic work. Since I am doing a homestay, I a m constantly using my language skills and experiencing local culture. My host family has really taken me in as a member of their family, and I was even a brides maid in two of my host brothers’ weddings! Weddings and burials are huge parts of Yoruba culture, and I feel lucky to be included in these experiences.

I know that my year in Nigeria will greatly influence my studies and future career goals in ways I can't anticipate, but ideally I would like to complete my service requirement with the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs or Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. I would also be interested in working on peace and security initiatives with USAID's Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau or Food Sec urity Bureau.

If I could give advice for future applicants, I would tell them to spend a lot of time researching and designing your proposed program - a Boren Fellowship is an excellent opportunity if you make the most of it. Think seriously about what U. S. national security topics correspond with your personal and academic interests. If there is something you feel passionately about, it will be a much more rewarding experience. Also try to arrange as much as you can before you head overseas. You will s ave yourself a lot of time, hassle, and frustration. As the Yoruba would say, “What you give you get, ten times over.”

Written: November 2011

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