1997 Boren Fellowships
Winning a Boren Scholarship to study in Argentina has influenced every professional step I have taken thus far in my life. When I submitted my application, I was a double major in Spanish Literature and Philosophy interested in exploring the interconnectedness between modern thought and cultural history. My statement of purpose argued that a true understanding of a country required an in-depth comprehension of its socio-political framework. In addition, I suggested that given the dictatorships that plagued Argentina’s last century, poetry was a more accurate record of societal discourse than many other historic sources. So, along with studying Argentine history, living with a host family, and furthering my Spanish, I conducted an independent research project on the political turmoil that influenced the poetry of Jose Luis Borges. Additionally, I interned at Centro Cultural Recoleta, a prestigious center for the arts. My internship was particularly influential and enlightening. As a student, even as a foreign student, it is easy to interact with other students. Office culture, however, varies significantly from country to country and challenges one to acquire an even more nuanced understanding of language and behavior.
After graduation it was through the Boren network that I was invited to apply for another fellowship, this one in the form of a U.S. Foreign Service posting in Monterrey, Mexico. When I accepted the Mexico contract, my only focus was fulfilling my Boren service requirement and spending more time overseas. However, as fate would have it, my time with the State Department coincided with September 11, 2001. The overhaul of the U.S. national security paradigm had a profound impact and, upon completing my fellowship, I began a Master’s program at Columbia University with dual concentrations in International Security Policy and Latin American Studies. Post-graduation, my connection to NSEP and the Boren alumni network led to a position with a U.S. Department of Defense program analyzing foreign media. Then, after a decade of work with or for the U.S. government, I left the public sector but I still continue to draw on my experiences in Latin America. I now work for a private company that has offices all over the Americas, and my role is to provide operational guidance on a variety of issues from personal security to physical infrastructure requirements to regional risk briefings.
Outside of my professional duties, I volunteer with the Boren Forum and I have had the privilege of speaking with potential Boren applicants. In our conversations I have advised students not to focus on the media’s limited definition of national security when evaluating their viability as candidates. One can serve the larger interests of U.S. national security without having to work directly for the CIA, FBI or DOD. Similarly, one does not need to focus only on the conflict or region du jour in order to be competitive. The future success of U.S. national security requires individuals with a multitude of disciplines and interests, leaders who understand the interconnectedness between regions and issues that might at first glance seem dissimilar. Above all, I encourage future Boren applicants to look at what they are passionate about (be it a particular topic, region or something as obscure as South American political poets) and let that passion guide them. I have found that individuals who are true to their interests ultimately find great success in the field, even if the path seems unconventional at first.
Written: January 2013