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Drexel Sends First Dragon to Kazakhstan

August 03, 2016

Caitlin Walczyk will be the first Drexel student to receive a scholarship or fellowship to study in Kazakhstan.

For the first time ever, a Drexel student will study in Kazakhstan on a sponsored program or fellowship. Caitlin Walczyk, a pre-junior with a double major in international area studies and political science from the College of Arts and Sciences, will make Drexel history in the upcoming academic year when she spends nine months in the country as a Boren Awards honoree.

The scholarship supports students who want to study a language and work in regions critical to United States interests, which is why Walczyk will study the Russian language and post-Soviet history and culture at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Additionally, Boren also enables students to work for the federal government in the national security arena for at least one year. This stipulation will be a huge benefit for Walczyk, who hopes to work for the Department of State in the Foreign Service after graduation.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to fulfill all of my academic and professional dreams,” she said.

Walczyk is one of just 11 American undergraduate students — including, coincidentally, a friend she went to high school with — that will be studying in Kazakhstan. She will take 20 hours of language classes a week for a year and, for an even more intensive experience, will be living with a host family.

In Kazakhstan, approximately 70 percent of the population is Kazakh and 30 percent is Russian, so while she doesn’t know what nationality her host family will be, she knows they will definitely speak Russian and perhaps not even English. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m relatively new to the Russian language and I’m going somewhere where people don’t speak as much English,” she said. “The program is very vigorous in teaching the Russian language and living with a host family will help me that much more."

Walczyk has finished Russian 103 at Drexel, which she started after studying German in high school and completing a minor in college. A term studying abroad in Germany during her sophomore year at Drexel helped her realize her love of post-World War II and Cold War geopolitics and her dream of working in the Foreign Service — as a Boren Awards recipient. 

The Boren application process is exceptionally lengthy, and Walczyk started working on her application a year before she found out she won the award in April. In the time between, she wrote and rewrote essays and statements of interest explaining why she wanted to study Russian in Kazakhstan and her passion for working in the realm of national security. And after all of that, she reworked her application again after presenting it and receiving feedback from a Drexel committee of professors and members from Drexel’s Fellowships Office in the Pennoni Honors College.

“It was the longest process, but it felt so good to know I put in all of this effort and it paid off,” said Walczyk.

She credits Jen Lech, a fellowships advisor in the Drexel Fellowships Office; Lloyd Ackert, PhD, an associate teaching professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and her adviser Kate Hughes, associate director of the Global Studies and Modern Languages Department for helping her during the application experience.