Since the age of 10 I have studied East Asia. I was always fascinated with learning about China but never decided to seriously learn the language until I went to Norwich University. Eventually I decided to study abroad through the ROTC Project GO program in Beijing, and then I received a Boren Scholarship to study Mandarin at Whampoa Military Academy in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
While at Whampoa, I had a high level of Mandarin immersion. I was the only American student and native English speaker on campus. For the first two months I ran into many cultural roadblocks I had not previously anticipated in addition to coping with the 24/7 Mandarin environment. I learned a great deal about traditional Chinese culture and enjoyed traveling around Taiwan to get a feel for the island's culture and people. I tried to be as outgoing as possible, using Mandarin whenever I could. Halfway during my semester at Whampoa, my classmates determined that my Mandarin was so good that they began teaching me Taiwanese.
On weekends, I lived with my Taiwanese classmates’ families and hung out with my fellow foreign students. Although Whampoa had other foreigners, they all came from Latin America and West Africa. Learning their perspectives on Chinese society, thinking, language, and daily life were invaluable to expanding my cultural understanding. I also grew personally from spending time with them, learning how to go with the flow and enjoy life in a manner that most Americans rarely do. Words cannot express how much my fellow foreign Whampoa classmates taught me, and I intend to maintain contact with them for the rest of my life.
After my Boren experience, I won another scholarship to study Mandarin in Taiwan for six more months. I have not completed my service requirement yet, but I plan to seek a commission in the U.S. Army or the Foreign Service.
I strongly suggest that potential Boren applicants find a program that allows for as much cultural and language immersion as humanly possible and that is long in length. The umbrella term of "national security" is very wide and varied, so when writing the essay find a specific niche where you can make an impact with the skills you would learn from the Boren and make sure to explain it in ways that are clear and direct to the scholarship committee. Always remember that at the end of the day you owe the government time for the skills they invested in you, but also remember that one of our biggest weaknesses in national security is a lack of culturally apt and language proficiency Americans working in those areas.
Written: October 2012
EDITED: October 2013