While studying in Kyrgyzstan through the government-supported Boren Scholarship, senior business major Douglas Winter was able to interact with local farmers and experience the problems they deal with during an internship with the Food and Agriculture Organization, allowing him practical experience toward his post-university goal of working as an agricultural expert.
The Boren Scholarship awards students up to $20,000 to study abroad in areas of the world that have critical needs. The scholarship, mainly focused around language study, requires applicants to create a proposal explaining how their language studies will aid U.S. national security and allows students to use their language studies to integrate themselves into the country and help solve problems ingrained in its society. 2,828 students have received the Boren Scholarship since 1994.
Winter was awarded $20,000 last year to study Russian language and agricultural business in Kyrgyzstan for nine months. Winter’s goal after graduating is to help foreign nations build sustainable agricultural programs while communicating in their own language.
Studying in an Asian or African country as an American student can be a beneficial way to push students’ limits by expanding their knowledge of cultures and languages very different from their own, according to CSU Education Abroad Coordinator Chris Churma.
“The more you are willing to step further outside of your comfort zone, the more impact that experience may have. For many students, the idea of going to somewhere comfortable or safe, like Western Europe, is not appealing to them because they want to push their limits,” Churma wrote in an e-mail to the Collegian. “When you think more globally in terms of business and economies, there is a lot of focus on places like Asia. Students are thinking more critically about their long-term career goals, and how an experience abroad may benefit them. While there is no one answer for all, having experience in a region of the world that may play are large role in your future career is a huge advantage. Particularly if you have learned or can speak that local language.”
Winter said that the year he applied, there were approximately 1,500 applicants and only a 10% acceptance rate. According to the CSU Education Abroad office, Winter was the first CSU student since 2001 to be awarded this scholarship.
As a result of his Boren scholarship experience, Winter said that he understands the value of learning Russian, a language which for the past few years at CSU had such low enrollment that a minor was unavailable to students. As of this year, a Russian minor is once again available.
Ludmila Pokatilova, CSU’s Russian professor, said that she has almost 100 students studying Russian. However, because it is not a popular course of study, she finds that Russian students are dedicated to studying the language, often have a reason for studying it, and will find a way to use it after college.
“Usually those who are in (the) Russian program, they are very motivated. Very seldom I have a ‘C’ grade,” Pokatilova said. “Very seldom (do) I have those who don’t try.”
Winter agreed with his former professor and said he supports the study of other so-called “critical needs languages.”
“A critical needs language will get you a job. If you are fluent in Russian, Chinese or Arabic, you’ll get a job,” Winter said. “You are an absolute asset to a business… especially if you want to travel abroad.”
Winter said he chose to pursue agricultural business in Kyrgyzstan because agriculture is such a significant part of the lives of people who live in central Asian countries. He wants to help stabilize their agricultural practices because if the economies of those countries begin to fail, it has the ability to affect countries around the world.
“In central Asia, as well as Africa, 60% of the population is rural and depends on agriculture, and much of them live in poverty. So for me… I’m electing to go to an international agriculture route, that helps the countries that our military will most likely need to be operating in if their state fails,” Winter said. “I’m trying to focus on agriculture, and stability and poverty reduction.”
Because of the United States’ image abroad, Winter said that the U.S. often hires in-country specialists as opposed to sending Americans. He said, not only can qualified Americans make a difference working in foreign countries, they can also help change our negative image abroad.
“If the military comes out and says ‘You’re tilling wrong,’ that’s completely different than a couple of guys or girls… coming out and saying, ‘Hey, check out the information we’ve got over here, if you till differently, you might see better yield,’” Winter said. “Who you choose to bring that message matters, and now that I’ve done the military thing and seen it, I’m choosing the diplomatic side— I’m choosing (to be) that civilian specialist.”
Collegian Policy Beat Reporter Ellie Mulder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.