Monday, June 17, 2013

Boren Convocation

As most of you probably know, I was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study in Russia next spring and summer! As part of the award, all 115 award winners were flown into DC from around the country for our convocation event this week. Last night we all went out to dinner then for a night tour of the national mall, today was packed full of briefings and meet-and-greets, and tomorrow we all get to meet the congressmen from our states and districts! I wasn't really sure what there was to 'convocate' us on for two days seeing how different all of our programs are, but it's actually been pretty great so far.
Today we had panels mostly relating to our service requirements, program regulations and expectations, funding logistics, safety and security, and what it's like to work for the federal government.
There are 13 Boren scholars going to Russia and it was awesome to make friends who will be in cities from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok! Road trip anyone? =p   I really enjoyed talking about Russian history, culture, film, food, travel experiences, and language frustrations with other people who share such similar goals and experiences and will probably be my competition for jobs when I graduate! Haha
It was also very interesting to hear other scholars' stories of why and how they choose their languages and countries. Even if I don't have a passion for, say, Nepal, it's inspiring to hear my peers just gush about how important the Nepalese watershed is for all of South and Central Asia.
I think a lot of us have similar experiences being tsked at or disapproved of for having passions that not everyone understands and for attempting to specialize in a climate of so many "jack of all trades, master of none"s. It's really so freeing and such a relief to be reassured that I'm not the only one whose family thinks she's crazy and who has taken the leap of faith into the murky waters of turning a passion into a career.

To sum this up I thought I could just share a few inspiring things I was told today by people involved with Boren as alumni (and, thus, national security-related government employees for at least a year), board members, or outside advisors. Here are some of my favorite words of wisdom!
Advice for studying abroad:
- "Spend more time in bars" (don't focus so much on school work that you miss out on authentic life in your host country)
- Don't go to "Spain" (don't have a typical American study abroad experience- go for more than 6 weeks, actually immerse yourself in language and culture)
- Get away from other ex-pats
- Get involved with community service/internships while abroad
- Read the newspaper everyday
- Embrace the awkward moments and use them as learning experiences
- Talk to strangers- retirees in parks, children etc.
- Get lost! Travel, explore, take advantage of your situation

Advice for fear of specializing:
- Don't worry, Russia  is cool
- You're young, plenty of time to broaden your expertise or study other languages
- "Do what you're interested in and a career will develop from that", let yourself flourish
- There are already way too many generalists
- There is ample room to stay in and grow within the field of Russia/Eurasia in the US Gov

Advice for a foreign service-type career:
- Do Boren (check!)
- Be a regional specialist
- Interning and networking is KEY
- Develop your area of expertise, but don't become a one-trick pony
- Get a security clearance as soon as possible
- Be flexible and open-minded when looking for your first job

Well. I hope tomorrow is as interesting as today was! Spicy-bo for reading ;)

*Highlight: The FBI-produced film "Game of Pawns" that tells the true story of an American student in Shanghai, Glenn Duffie Shriver, who was recruited by the Chinese government to infiltrate a U.S. intelligence agency.* 

**Other Highlight: Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer briefing us on safety issues abroad who was incredibly hilarious and coined the term "spicy-bo" (mispronunciation of the Russian word for 'thank you')**

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