Taking a Career Abroad: 3 Questions with Henry Luce Scholar Adriana Akers

Jun 22, 2012
Adriana Akers, 2011-2012 Henry Luce Scholar at the Urban China Initiative

Adriana Akers has built a career that many of us dream of. After graduating with a degree in Urban Studies from Barnard College in 2009, Adriana earned a position in the 2009-10 cohort of the New York City Urban Fellows and had the opportunity to work on innovative sustainability projects for the City of New York. Yet, Adriana was already thinking well beyond the boundaries of NYC and later applied for a Henry Luce Scholarship for a year of professional development abroad in Asia. The Henry Luce Foundation’s Luce Scholars Program is a competitive fellowship that seeks college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals in a variety of fields who have had limited exposure to Asia.  Applicants propose a project and winners are provided an individually-arranged professional placement abroad that is based on his or her professional interest, background, and qualifications. Placements can be made in China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand, among many other locations. We sat down with Adriana to ask her more about this incredible opportunity.

1. Why did you decide to apply for the Henry Luce Scholarship and what did you propose to do?

I’ve long known that in my ideal career I’d have a hand in shaping urban environments. After majoring in Urban Studies at Barnard College and then working for the City of New York for several years, I had learned a lot about domestic city policy, but I found myself eager to learn more about city planning in the international realm. In particular I wanted to go to China, a country which I had visited for a few weeks in 2007 and which stood out to me as a place where urban planning was both important — China is currently undergoing the largest and fastest urbanization process in human history — and fascinating. What’s more, my first visit to China left me much more confused about the historical and cultural context than I had been before I arrived, leaving me curious and eager to delve deeper and learn more.

The Henry Luce Scholarship seemed to me to be the single best way to learn about and participate in urban planning activities in Asia. The Luce’s emphasis on cultural immersion, as an organization that provides language study and professional placement in a local organization, also seemed ideal for my personal goals.

2. What do you think made your application stand out?

The Luce looks for candidates with leadership potential and well-defined career interests. My work and academic record pointed to an interest in urban planning, and I think that in particular my participation in the New York City Urban Fellows Program, as well as strong recommendations from my academic advisers in the Barnard-Columbia Urban Studies Department, made the case for leadership potential. However, the Luce Scholars Program encounters many candidates with history of success, and I think the thing that made my application stand out was likely my essays, which centered on not only my passion for urban issues, but also how my background and experiences had cultivated in me a genuine interest in cultural exchange. For an individual to succeed in a very different (and often frustrating) linguistic and cultural context, with little to no experience in that context, personal qualities like flexibility, adaptability, and sense of humor are also critical.

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Henry Luce Scholarship?

The Luce Scholarship is a fellowship for potential future leaders and as such is a career-oriented fellowship. The work placement is a central part of the year. However, an interest in cultural immersion is critical, as this is, in my opinion, the crux of the program. Applicants should demonstrate that they are looking to understand another culture and make strong connections with local people. Applicants should also make the case for why an immersion experience in Asia could be central to achieving future career goals–why Asia, in particular, rather than any other region where work and cultural fellowships are available.

Adriana Akers is a 2011-2012 Henry Luce Scholar at the Urban China Initiative. Previous to her position at UCI, she worked at the City of New York as a New York City Urban Fellow and helped organize programs to reach the goals of PlaNYC 2030, New York City’s long-term sustainability plan. Adriana graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College in 2009, with departmental honors, thesis distinction, and induction into Phi Beta Kappa.

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.