Boren scholar, 2014 graduate's experience anything but ordinary
Graduating college with one major is hard enough, but imagine graduating with three. James Madison University senior Andrew Reese, an international affairs, political science and history triple major with minors in Africana studies, Middle Eastern communities and migrations, and political communication, was able to combine a rigorous academic experience with an interest in Africa, where he studied abroad on the prestigious Boren Scholarship last year.
Reese began developing leadership skills during his freshman year in 2008, when he was elected treasurer of the Student Government Association. He followed that up by becoming student body president for the 2010-11 academic year. Reese was later the only student representative on the search committee that brought President Jonathan Alger to JMU in 2012. “It was good experience being in these professional settings and, in the end, a lot of those experiences helped portray the idea that I was professional.”
It was also during his freshman year that Reese learned about JMU’s study abroad program in Kenya. “For some reason, I had this infatuation with going to Africa to study abroad. I went to the director’s office and I talked to her about it and asked what she suggested.”“For some reason, I had this infatuation with going to Africa to study abroad. I went to the director’s office and I talked to her about it and asked what she suggested.” Dr. Jennifer Coffman’s recommendation was for Reese to begin taking Swahili classes to familiarize himself with the language. Reese continued on the Swahili track, and his studies led to an internship with the U.S. Department of State in Kigali, Rwanda, during the spring of 2012. “Due to my involvement on campus, things just kind of fell into place for me to get the internship.”
While in Rwanda, Reese began working closely with Dr. Melinda Adams, JMU’s prestigious scholarships coordinator, who helped him earn the Boren Scholarship. The scholarship provides up to $20,000 to U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad in areas of the world considered critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad. After returning to the United States, participants are required to work for the federal government for one year.
Reese used his Boren Scholarship to study in Africa during the 2012-13 academic year. During the fall semester, he stayed in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. For their primary class, students participating in the program were separated according to how fluent they were in Swahili. Reese was placed in the advanced class due to his previous experience with the language. Students also had a choice between two secondary courses. “When it comes to classes, I was quite prepared. The difficulty varied and while Dr. (Brillian) Muhonja put me through the ringer while learning the language, it was definitely invaluable down the line.”
In addition to their coursework, students spent a significant amount of time exploring the island and local culture. Each student was paired with a local Zanzibari as a language partner and guide. All conversations took place in Swahili, which allowed U.S. students to use their new language skills in non-classroom settings. Students lived with Zanzibari families who also only spoke Swahili."I felt that actually being involved with the community on such a significant level was really powerful for me to see what the culture was like on the ground and see what life was like."
During his time in Zanzibar, Reese played for a recently formed third-division professional soccer team. “I had no idea that I was being asked to play for an actual team. What was cool was that every time we won, we would get paid, but we only got paid the equivalent of $3.14. I felt that actually being involved with the community on such a significant level was really powerful for me to see what the culture was like on the ground and see what life was like. I definitely want to be involved in financially supporting the team in the future, once I finish up school.”
Reese’s spring 2013 semester was spent in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. “We stayed in homestays again but this time with professors and on university grounds, so we had a bit more access. Only one student who had gone to Zanzibar with me also went to Dar es Salaam. It was just a fairly typical study abroad program run by a U.S. company.”
Reese returned to JMU in the fall of 2013 to complete his undergraduate degrees. He plans to graduate with honors in May and has received a Critical Language Scholarship through the State Department to study Urdu in Lucknow, India, over the summer. Reese would like to attend graduate school and fulfill his one-year federal government obligation in the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department, or the intelligence community, with the goal of getting involved in politics.
“The Boren Scholarship offered me a great experience. I would definitely advise people, even if they were unsure, just to apply. I would say definitely try and get out of the Western world. I know a lot of students who go to Europe but at the end of the day, while you’re still in a different culture, you’re not really experiencing how the rest of the world lives.”
by Michele Mannino ('14)
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