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Q&A With CoAS Boren-Award Winners

By Tinashe Michael Tapera ’17

June 21, 2016

Caitlin Walczyk
Caitlin Walczyk
Alexandra Pickens
Alexandra Pickens

College of Arts and Sciences students Alexandra Pickens, BA international area studies ’17, and Caitlin Walczyk, BA international area studies and political science ’18, each received the 2016 David L. Boren Scholarship from the National Security Education Program. The scholarship, which provides funding to students studying abroad in areas critical to U.S. interests, sent Pickens to Jordan this May, while Walczyk heads to Kazakhstan in the fall.

Q: How did you choose your study abroad location? What will you study there?

Pickens: I’ve been studying Arabic since my freshman year at Drexel, so Jordan was an easy choice. I did a brief intensive Arabic language program in Morocco during the summer of my freshman year, but I had a lot of trouble speaking Fusha (classical Arabic), because the actual spoken dialect is quite different. So in Jordan, where I currently live with a wonderful host mother who doesn’t speak English, I’ve already learned a lot of standard Arabic. While I’m completing my third co-op with an NGO called SADAQA, I’ll also be taking Arabic classes. I’ll complete my fall term at the University of Jordan, where I’ll take classes in Modern Standard Arabic, Jordanian Dialect, and various topics in Middle Eastern studies.

Walczyk: When I received the Boren Award, I had already been studying Russian and had been thinking about trying a Russian-speaking program. Unfortunately, security issues restricted my ability to go to Russia, but I still wanted to get a feel for post-Soviet Union Europe to try and understand that region of the world better. The influence of the Soviet Union and of modern day Russia is really strong in Kazakhstan, so that felt like the best place to use my scholarship, where I’ll study post-WWII geopolitics.

Q: What piqued your interest in Arabic/Middle Eastern Studies (Pickens) and post-Soviet Union Europe/WWII Politics (Walczyk)?

Pickens: My fascination for the broad range of issues of international politics was narrowed when I had to pick a language freshman year. I had taken Spanish in high school, but my particular interest in Middle Eastern topics pushed me towards Arabic. It was a part of the world I knew very little about, and I was excited for the challenge. I’ve fallen in love with the beauty of the written language. When I get discouraged with speaking and listening, I find confidence in the reading and writing.

Walczyk: I eventually want to work in diplomacy and represent U.S. interests abroad, and that requires a deep understanding of the relationships between nations of the world. The geopolitical spectrum has changed hugely since the end of WWII — many relationships were strained (particularly between the U.S. and Soviet Union); the world started becoming Westernized, but Russia is still trying very hard to remain Eastern. I wanted to investigate those dynamics.

Q: Have you studied or traveled anywhere else abroad?

Pickens: Yes, Morocco in my freshman year, as well as my second co-op with an NGO in India, and Drexel’s field Hockey tours in Europe. Some of my earliest memories are from annual volunteer trips that my family took to Mexico. I really enjoyed passing out donated clothes and toys in impoverished villages. I remember handing a stuffed animal to a little girl who was so happy that she ran inside and returned to offer me a small gold earring shaped like a pyramid; it was undoubtedly her prized possession. I was so humbled, and still have that earring. Each country, language and culture taught me something different, and I always come home with something I had been lacking before I left.

Walczyk: I had started studying German in my freshman year of high school. For our junior-year research project, my advisers pushed me toward the study of Germany’s national identity, particularly after WWII, which got me interested in international area studies. When I was a sophomore here at Drexel, I got an opportunity to study abroad in Germany under the politics department — that’s where I really started taking an interest in international affairs. Germany was a great experience, and it was surprisingly reminiscent of the U.S. because it was so industrialized.

Q: Who/what at Drexel has helped you most in achieving your goals?

Pickens: I’ve had unwavering guidance and support from my academic adviser Kate Hughes, and Arabic professor Azhar Jasim, as well as from my parents who supported me but pushed me toward self-reliance. Being a Drexel student athlete has also played a large role in my growth, because it’s forced me to create a healthy school-sport-social-personal balance.

Walczyk: Number one would be my academic adviser Kate Hughes. I really didn’t know where to go looking for opportunities, but Kate is good at working with students and pushing them forward to their goals! I’d also like to thank the Fellowships Office for their help. They’re extremely helpful; Jen Lech used to answer my emails on a daily basis to assist me with my applications.

Q: What are your future plans and how does this award complement those goals?

Pickens: After graduation, I hope to fulfill my Boren service requirement with the U.S. Department of State. I aspire to learn through the experience about the diplomatic operations of the U.S. government, and apply the language skills, cultural knowledge, and international experience I gain to a career of international problem solving.

Walczyk: This summer, I’ll be on co-op working for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security before going abroad. I know I eventually want to work for the U.S. Department of State and go into foreign service (living in other countries and promoting U.S. interests). This award will be a good start, and I know graduate or law school are definitely in the picture too!

For more information on this award, visit the Drexel Fellowships Office Boren Scholarship page or contact Meredith Wooten, PhD, director of the Fellowships Office.