Monthly Archives: September 2018

Ashley Lane’s Experience as a Critical Language Scholar in Tajikistan

Ashley Lane is pursuing a B.S.F.S. in Science, Technology, and International Affairs and Persian (SFS ’20). Ashley studied in Tajikistan during the summer of 2018 as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship

“You’re going to Tajikistan? Where even is that?”

I became fairly accustomed to these bewildered, eyebrows-raised comments in response to the disclosure of my somewhat unconventional summer plans. I received a lot of spelling requests, a couple responses of “Wait, is that even a country?”, and ultimately found myself resorting to a map and a mini elevator pitch:

“I’m traveling to Tajikistan (a country in Central Asia) to study Persian with the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program through the State Department. I’ll be living with a host family and taking classes there for two months.”

Usually we had reached some level of greater understanding by this point in the conversation, but it was often followed by a much harder question to answer: “Okay, but why?”

This was an incredible opportunity to improve my linguistic skills and further my academic and professional goals. I have been studying Persian for the past two years at Georgetown, which I enrolled in my freshman year frankly based on a whim and an interest in the Middle East and Central Asia. What I found in these courses was beyond what I could have ever expected: I completely fell in love with the language and culture. I decided to pursue Persian for my language proficiency requirement and declared a Persian minor. Studying in Tajikistan would give me the chance to immerse myself in a Persian-speaking country, improve my language skills, and fulfill some of my academic requirements. I also knew that greater linguistic knowledge and abilities along with international experience would benefit me professionally in the future, given my aspiration to work in the government.

Yet even with this perfectly-crafted match and vision, I still found myself questioning several times throughout the program: “Wait, why am I doing this again?” The truth is, CLS Persian came with its fair share of challenges. From Tajik Tummy to struggling to understand my host family in the local dialect to difficult coursework and 107-degree Fahrenheit heat, I certainly wondered from time to time how I had willingly gotten myself into this. There were days where I felt like I was regressing, unable to speak or think with ease in Persian, frustrated by every minor annoyance that presented itself to me. But with these days also came those of small victories and visible progress, of joy found in both the adventures of this experience and the mundane moments of everyday life. It was the combination of these experiences – the non-linear path of cultural adjustment – but particularly the challenges of CLS, that ultimately taught me more about myself and contributed the most to my personal development.

My CLS experience provided me with the tools to achieve my linguistic, academic and professional goals, but it also provided me with something infinitely more valuable: the opportunity to engage with people in an area of the world I may otherwise never have been able to. Tajikistan, in all its complexity and contradictions, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to, filled with some of the kindest and most hospitable people I have ever met. I am beyond grateful for my host family and all of the people – especially the women – that I met who welcomed me into their spaces with open arms, and for those who challenged and supported me. It was really these people who shaped my experience and provided me with greater insight into Tajik culture and life in Tajikistan. This, for me, is where the true value of cultural exchange and the CLS program lies: a piece of my heart, another home, will always find its place in Tajikistan.

Ashley Lane, fourth from the left, pictured with her host family in Tajikistan.

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Andrea Welsh’s Experience as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow

Andrea Welsh, SFS ’17, holds a Master’s of Global Human Development. 

The Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship was launched in 2012 under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to support the development of foreign government ministries and institutions with the day-to-day support of a special assistant. The program places Fellows in a variety of public policy areas including economic development, education, environment, gender equality, justice, and public health. Today, there are currently Fellows serving in Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Samoa, Cote D’Ivoire, Ukraine, Guatemala, Peru, Malawi, and Chile.

As a graduate of Georgetown’s Master of Global Human Development program, I was excited to apply my international development and public policy experience to work in a foreign government. My goal was to identify an opportunity that offered direct experience with the process to develop and create public policy at the country-level and in order to learn how the international community can provide more effective support during this process.

In September 2017, I was fortunate to be selected as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow with the assignment to serve in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education in the Department of Technical and Vocational Education and Training. In my role as a Fellow, I directly advise the senior leadership of the Department on policy reform, build project management capacity of civil service staff, establish and maintain effective working relationships with international development partners, and implement gender-focused mainstreaming and integration initiatives. This work aims to support the Department’s goal of improving the national education system in order to provide future generations of students with improved economic and career opportunities.

As part of my Fellowship, I am also engaged in a research project which focuses on the experience of our female students and teachers by examining the types of technical education they pursue, cultural and/or social barriers that arise while developing a technical skill, and employment opportunities upon graduation.

I live in Nay Pyi Taw which has served as the country’s administrative capital since 2005. Due to the importance of engaging students and teachers in effective policy reform, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the country visiting our schools. These visits have provided invaluable insights and unique perspectives which have guided our reform efforts to diversify course offerings, reform existing curriculum and create new curriculum, and expand linkages with private sector actors to open professional opportunities for our students.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have applied my education from the School of Foreign Service to serve as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow. It has further reinforced my belief in the critical need to build and maintain strong government institutions. As I prepare for my placement to conclude in the coming months, I am confident that the experiences and lessons I have learned as a Fellow will guide my work in public service.

 

Andrea Welsh (SFS GHD 2017) currently serves as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education. For more information regarding the Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, please visit https://www.cies.org/program/fulbright-public-policy-fellowship.

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