Fresh off a one-year stint in Jordan on a prestigious David L. Boren Scholarship, Madison Marks doesn’t slow down. With a keen interest in international refugee studies, Madison has pursued every opportunity to advance her Arabic language skills, gain international field experience and prepare a solid resume, with her eye on becoming a future graduate student at Oxford University.
The Boren Awards for International Study, are highly competitive fellowships for study abroad. Funded by the National Security Education Program, the Boren Awards provide undergraduate and graduate fellowships of $20-$30K to fund opportunities to study the language and culture of countries normally underrepresented in U.S. study abroad programs. Applicants must convince the selection committee how their study abroad program, as well as their future academic and career goals, will contribute to U.S. national security. In my previous post “How to Win a Boren Fellowship”, I discuss the importance of crafting a compelling application. Madison provides her insider tips on crafting a national security-related project proposal in the context of economic sustainability. She also talks frankly about her experience applying for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for study at Oxford.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Boren Scholarship and what was your experience like?
I enrolled in Arabic at FSU, but there were few opportunities to practice the language outside of the classroom; therefore, I sought opportunities to gain an extended immersion experience abroad.
The Boren Scholarship is a National Security Education Program-funded grant that enables students to pursue immersion experiences with languages that are pertinent to U.S. national security interests, broadly defined. Undergraduate Boren Scholars can receive up to $20,000 for study abroad. Boren tends to select students who choose to spend 6-12 months in one country as opposed to one semester. The application process involves writing two essays. One of these essays describes how the language and country chosen is pertinent to the applicant’s goals and U.S. national security interests; the other is a more general overview of the preferred study abroad program.
Developing my proposal for the Boren scholarship was actually quite challenging because I was interested in studying Sudanese Arabic. Both Sudan and South Sudan are on the U.S. State Department Travel Warning list, therefore I had to be creative with my application. My interest in Sudan developed during my first two years at FSU where I wrote several term papers and did a Directed Individual Study related to the causes and consequences of displacement in the Nuba Mountains area of Sudan. Through my research, I learned that the largest Sudanese diaspora community is in Cairo. As a result, I crafted my Boren application in such a way that I emphasized the importance of studying in Cairo so that I could also interact with Sudanese refugees to learn the dialect. I emphasized the importance of having U.S. experts in Sudan in the future, as well as my desire to contribute towards security in the Sudan via economic sustainability projects, especially related to education.
During the period between submitting my application in January 2011 and receiving the Boren Scholarship in May 2011, Egypt experienced a lot of economic and political transitions following the fall of Mubarak. My study abroad program was canceled for the fall, so I switched to Jordan. I had won a grant from my university to study Arabic in Jordan the summer, so I was simply extending my stay from three months to a full year.
I studied Arabic intensively at Qasid Institute, progressing through level 6 of Modern Standard Arabic. I did not go with an organized study abroad group, so I did much of my planning for extracurricular activities, language partners, and travel by myself or with my group of friends. I volunteered with refugee aid and civil society organizations in order to learn more about different NGOs, and taught conversational English. All of these extracurricular activities and language partners enabled me to hone my Arabic conversational skills and gave me insight into my academic and professional interests. Working with and befriending refugees from across the Middle East and North Africa sparked an interest in pursuing further education in Refugee and Forced Migration studies.
Upon returning to the U.S. in summer 2012, I worked with refugees in Nashville, Tennessee in order to learn about the U.S. resettlement process and the challenges that refugees face in adjusting to American culture and systems. My experience in Nashville and the Middle East motivated me to apply for the Rhodes scholarship in order to obtain an MPhil in International Development. Oxford has the world’s leading Refugee Studies Centre, and I wanted to concentrate my master’s thesis on issues concerning forced migration. Because I had already applied for the Boren scholarship, I was prepared for the hard work that the Rhodes application would require. Drafting a personal statement was difficult (and took between 10 and 12 different drafts!) yet rewarding because I was finally able to put my story down on paper in a concise way and better articulate my personal and professional goals. Being selected as a finalist for the Rhodes in fall 2012 was an honor. It challenged me to learn how to articulate my goals in an interview setting and not just on paper. I have grown much as a result of these fellowships and would not have been able to have the opportunities I did without the funding abilities like Boren. The most rewarding part is the personal growth you gain from the application process, whether or not you are selected as a fellow or not.
2. What do you think made your application stand out?
My application to the Boren was unique because of my interest in national security-related issues in the Sudan. The country that was most closely related to Sudan in language and culture was Egypt; therefore, I drafted my application emphasizing the importance of studying in Cairo in order for me to enhance my Arabic skills and understanding of Sudanese culture and dynamics. As mentioned before, the largest number of Sudanese refugees are in Cairo. In addition to my Arabic studies, I planned to volunteer with NGOs that would enable me to use my Arabic skills while learning about the challenges that Sudanese refugees faced in Cairo. Ultimately, I believe my application stood out because it was atypical in the way that I defined the importance of national security in a country like Sudan that is often overlooked in discussions on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. While I ended up studying in Jordan, I pursued my interests in education and social development through volunteerism there, and I visited Cairo on my route home.
I started drafting my essays two to three months before the application deadline in order to give myself time to work through several revisions. Giving myself plenty of time on the application helped me to dwell on areas in which I needed to improve, and what was not necessary to get my point across. If I could give advice to other applicants for the Boren Scholarship, it would be the following:
- Talk to your university fellowships advisor and your major professors early. The application deadline on your campus might be a few weeks before the national deadline. Beginning in October and November gives you plenty of time to do research on your proposed study abroad programs.
- Notify those who will be writing your letters of recommendation well in advance.
- Contact your proposed study abroad programs in advance in order to get the name of the admissions coordinator. If you are having trouble finding a study abroad program, see where other Boren scholars have studied in the past. The Boren website has a list of sites where you might be able to find a list of websites internationally.
- Staying with a host family or in a dorm will provide you unique insight into the culture, and will help you grow your language skills.
- While writing your essays, be sure to answer the prompt questions directly: (1) why the language you seek to study is important to national security; (2) the importance of the country you are studying in; (3) how you came to be interested in this language/country/topic and how you plan to use your acquired skills following the Boren scholarship; (4) where you plan to fulfill your year of service; and (5) how the study abroad programs of your choice will enable you to reach your goals.
- Do your research to create a realist budget. For instance, taxis in Jordan were $4.00 per day. This adds up over a year!
- Keep a timeline of the deadlines for the study abroad programs you have chosen. You will be notified in May whether or not you received the Boren, but you should have applied to the study abroad programs by this time…. Especially if you are starting in summer!
- Reach out to other Boren alumni for any questions. If you are selected as a Boren Scholar, you will have access to a Facebook group for Boren scholars. I utilized this in order to find a roommate in Jordan who is now one of my dearest friends!
3. How has the Boren Scholarship influenced your professional interests and career path?
The Boren Scholarship allowed me to gain advanced proficiency in Arabic, a skill that is fundamental for work in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Living in Jordan for a year also enabled me to explore my interests in refugee assistance and civil society development by volunteering with international and local organizations. Additionally, I was introduced to a network of Boren scholars and other international students and professionals who share an interest in the Middle East.
Overall, my academic and work experiences and the relationships built throughout my time on the Boren Scholarship has encouraged me to pursue a career whereby I can work towards education and social development in the MENA region. The definition of national security includes economic sustainability. I hope to use my language skills in a position with the State Department where I can work towards development policies and strategies related to refugees and asylum seekers in the Middle East and North Africa
I will be working in Washington D.C. this summer as an intern with World Justice Project. I will be working with research, communications, and data collection related to the annual release of the Rule of Law Index. After this summer, I plan to stay in D.C. or move to the Middle East in order to gain experience in the field of international education and social development. My goal is to attend graduate school in the near future for an M.A. in International Development with a focus in Economics. I still hope to attend Oxford in order to interact with the world’s leading professionals in the field of Refugee and Forced Migration studies.
Madison Marks is from Jacksonville, Florida and is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Middle East Studies. Madison is currently based in Washington D.C. where she is a Rule of Law Index intern with World Justice Project. Her areas of interest include international education and social development and forced migration issues with a focus in the Middle East and North Africa region.
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We recently met Hillary Evans at our first Esteemed Fellows Dinner in San Francisco. When you first meet Hillary, she seems like your typical recent graduate. But when you ask her how she came to her new position at the Silicon Valley Center For Global Studies, you learn that while she was student, she lived and studied in some of the most far-fetched corners of the globe, including Russia, China and most recently, Tajikistan. During her senior year at Syracuse University, Hillary applied for a Fulbright Research Scholarship to study drug trafficking along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. We asked Hillary to tell us more about her fascinating Fulbright experience.
1. What inspired you to apply for a Fulbright in Tajikistan?
I’m extremely passionate about international education and public diplomacy efforts of engagement. What inspired me initially to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to Tajikistan was my itching travel bug (turns out, that never leaves some people!). I narrowed down a couple of languages that I wanted to learn and geographical regions I was most interested in, and was left with Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran. Since there are no fellowships for American students that I was qualified for in Iran and Afghanistan, the decision was made for me. As a student of International Affairs focused on CIS countries, I was able to prepare a solid research proposal on current, relevant issues.
Tajikistan shares a long, mountainous, sparsely-regulated border with opium-rich Afghanistan. Estimates of Tajikistan’s economic dependence upon profits from the trafficking of opium via the Northern Route ranges from 30-50% of their GDP, making this an incredibly relevant national security issue for the United States. So, given Tajikistan’s geopolitical importance, it seemed only natural to write a grant proposal on “The Economics and Politics of the Opium Trade from Afghanistan.”
Once I found out I was granted the research scholarship for 2011-12, I started networking like crazy in Washington, DC and set myself up with a nice arrangement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a supporting institution. In exchange for social media/marketing/and press relations training and assistance at their office, they gave me access to their broad network of contacts in the field and included me on several UN border missions.
2. How has the experience impacted your career path and interests?
While I have yet to formally publish anything on my findings, I anonymously contributed to several articles written by journalists passing through demonstrating my ultimate conclusion: without the profits of the drug trade, Tajikistan would be a failed state, which is not in anyone’s interest. Questions that I am currently exploring and working to articulate diplomatically are: Why then spend so much money and resources on counter narcotics enforcement?; How are the counter narcotics training and US-funded programs affecting Tajikistan?; and What would be left, if all of the opium fields were eradicated in Afghanistan?
Had I taken credit for my contributions, it would have jeopardized my connections and positions. A friend of mine was a journalist who experienced the unfortunate wrath of the Tajik government, and was forced to pay some hefty bribes to leave the country for fear of being arrested. Naturally, I was cautious.
I’m now back in the U.S. and working as a contract manager for a U.S. State Department-funded distance education enhancement program in Pakistan. Our goal is to give them the pedagogical resources to expand their operations and outreach and make them more capable of providing affordable or free education. One of the ways we are doing this is by building a partnership between San Jose State University and Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad. Eventually, I hope to join the Foreign Service someday as a Cultural Affairs Officer, or Public Diplomacy Officer.
3. What advice would you give others applying for a Fulbright?
A Fulbright application differs greatly from country to country, and when selecting your destination and research topic, you should be aware of what the particular selected country/region has a demand for. You can do this by researching the US Embassy funded programs and by keeping yourself abreast of current international issues. This is not to say that if you choose something that does not fall under the “necessary” category, you will not be picked. Just keep in mind that the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy does the final selection.
When planning for a supporting host institution, or “affiliation,” make sure you’ve reached out to several people within that institution that are willing to support you. In order to secure mine, I drew up an informal “memorandum of understanding” and wrote where I could volunteer and help out in their organization in exchange for office space, contacts, resources, etc. People are usually open to free labor! If you need assistance on selecting one, the US Embassy Public Affairs office staff are generally willing to help, or I would be more than happy to be someone to bounce ideas off of – especially in CIS countries!
Another piece of advice that may go without saying for most people would be to show up to your interviews knowing more about your research topic than your panel (or at least appearing to with confidence). They don’t want to fund someone that they think might get there and just be wandering and lost the whole time. Show focus, determination, and passion for your topic. Indicate clear goals and timelines. You will not necessarily have to stick with it, everyone knows when you get in country things tend to shift. This is where many of my fellow Syracuse applicants did not pass. They wrote amazing grant proposals, but had no clear plans of how to deliver and conduct their research.
Lastly, know the language of the country you are applying to. This will make your application more competitive and your life a whole lot easier.
Hillary Evans earned her B.A. in International Relations, with a concentration in Europe and Eurasian countries, from the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. In her fall semester of 2009, she was accepted into the Library of Congress’ Open World Leadership Program, a prestigious international security studies work/study program in Washington, DC, where she interned at a public diplomacy organization specializing in Eurasia. Hillary is now the Contract Manager for the Pakistan Distance Education Enhancement Program at the Silicon Valley Center For Global Studies of the San Jose State University Research Foundation in California. She speaks fluent Russian, moderate Mandarin Chinese, and some Tajik/Farsi.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved.
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Bessie Young pursued a series of prestigious fellowships to travel the world and pursue her unique interest: photography and cross-cultural gerontology. As an undergraduate at Amherst, Bessie was a double major in Psychology and Art with focus on aging and Turkish language study. She won a Critical Language Scholarship for study abroad in Turkey, and also won a $10,000 Davis Projects For Peace grant from the Kathryn W. Davis Foundation to travel in Turkey, France and the U.S. and photograph the experience of the aging in nursing homes. After college, Bessie was one of 17 people nationally to win the prestigious Luce Scholarship, which funds a year of professional development in Asia. Bessie chose to live in Nishinomiya, Japan, where she studied and photographed aging and long-term care for the elderly to better understand the aging environment in differing cultural contexts. Bessie subsequently won the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, which funds a year of graduate study at universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Bessie is now enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Ulster in Belfast where she is collaborating with a faculty member who is researching photography as a memory aid for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is clear that Bessie will continue to excel in her interdisciplinary studies. We sat down with her to ask her more about pursuing her niche interest using a series of fellowships.
1. Tell us about your path to pursuing a MFA in Northern Ireland. What inspired you to apply to four fellowships and work abroad?
I began college with an interest in both art and psychology. In my first semester, I took a class called the Psychology of Aging and loved it. Soon both my art and psychology coursework began to focus on issues related to aging. Fellowships are a great way to explore specific passions in an interdisciplinary context, so I began applying to different opportunities that would allow me to use art as a way to understand aging in different countries.
Prior to coming to Northern Ireland, I was confused. Should I be a photographer who advocates for the elderly? Should I be a gerontologist who photographs aging issues as a part of research? While researching programs for a scholarship application, I was shocked to find a photography program in Northern Ireland where the director of the program was conducting research related to both photography and Alzheimer’s. I immediately decided this was the right program for me and I couldn’t be happier here. Sometimes applying for scholarships (whether your application is successful or not) will help you discover programs or collaborators you never would have otherwise.
2. What career paths are you considering after you complete your Master’s?
Even though I decided to pursue this MFA in Photography, my future is still very much open. I plan to continue to live abroad for the next several years and learn as much as I can about cross-cultural issues of aging. My main goal for this period in my life is to humbly learn and seek to understand as much as possible, so that one day I will be in a position to make positive change for the world’s elderly. Whether I’ll end up in the field of photography, psychology, medicine, anthropology, or something else, I’m not sure.
3. What advice would you give to others applying to competitive fellowships?
Follow your passions wholeheartedly and be truthful in explaining them and yourself to others. Just like you won’t be the perfect person for every fellowship, every fellowship will not be perfect for you. That’s why it’s important to be true to yourself and thoroughly thoughtful, genuine, and honest throughout your application and interview processes. Take time when answering questions to not just come up with a good answer, but to come up with the answer that is truest to who you are. Not only will others respond to your sincerity, but when you are offered a fellowship, you will also be confident that they saw the true you and liked it.
“This work is a way to connect the individual and the subjective aging experience to aging as a social phenomenon. It is a way to draw lines between the visible and invisible. There is specificity here that words cannot capture.”
- Bessie Young
Bessie Young is a 2011 summa cum laude graduate of Amherst College. She spent the last year as a Henry Luce Scholar studying eldercare in Japan. Currently, Bessie is studying for her MFA in Photography at the University of Ulster Belfast through a George J. Mitchell Scholarship.
© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.
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Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, educates leaders for Europe – academicians, artists and community activists – towards fluency in Jewish sources. The Institute offers a one year Jewish Studies Program, dedicated to the study and interdisciplinary interpretation of Jewish textual sources, and some students are supported on Paideia’s One Year Fellowship in Jewish Studies. Fellows spend eight months at Paideia in Stockholm, Sweden with the possibility of completing a Master in Jewish Civilizations at the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien in Heidelberg, Germany. The fellowship includes student tuition, student accommodation and a monthly stipend towards living costs.
The Jewish Studies program offers a combination of traditional textual study methodology (hevruta), an academic and critical approach to interpretation, and an applied dimension answering to contemporary needs, making it a unique program. The program also includes language study in Hebrew Ulpan, taught four hours a week on three different levels. The amount of Hebrew studies is equivalent to one semester of exclusive full-time study.
Applications are due March 1 and prior study experience in Jewish texts or Hebrew is not required.
Join the crowd
Our step-by-step guide for a competitive fellowship application
1. Create a plan
2. Project proposal ideas
3. Talk to current / former fellows
4. Prepare an effective resumé
5. Find a host institution
6. Write a compelling personal statement
7. Prepare a strong project proposal
8. Get great recommendation letters (P1)
9. Get great recommendation letters (P2)
10. Nail the individual and group interviews