I first lived in Thailand from 2002-2004. From that experience, I had a firm grasp on spoken Thai and my accent was good, but my vocabulary – especially in academic, business, and political subjects – was limited. I also had no formal training in written Thai, so I remained at an elementary level. Therefore, I applied for the Boren Fellowship with the goal of achieving advanced language proficiency. I hoped to expand my vocabulary, learn to read newspapers and official reports, and learn to write using correct spelling and grammar. I also wanted to learn more about poverty reduction in developing countries and I have long been interested in working for the government. The Boren Fellowship allowed me to think about my time abroad in terms of what I really wanted and needed. My proposal included formal language study, an internship, and research.
During my first five weeks overseas, I studied one-on-one with a native Thai instructor. During a typical session, I would read a newspaper or journal article out loud in Thai. After each paragraph, the instructor repeated what I read, explained difficult and unfamiliar terms, and explained the language in the context of Thai culture. This personalized course was incredibly beneficial since I was able to select the subject matter and the instruction was tailored to gaps in my knowledge. At the end of the course, I could tell that my Thai had improved immensely and I was armed with hundreds of words related specifically to my field.
For the next five months, I worked as an intern for the Poverty Reduction and Agricultural Management (PRAM) initiative, which aims to empower government officials at the local level with the tools necessary to reduce poverty in their communities. I also conducted research on the barriers in developing countries that prevent businesses from creating jobs and driving sustainable economic growth. Working with PRAM taught me countless things about Thai culture. I learned what it’s like to work in a foreign country and I was invited to participate in many activities that casual tourists would never even hear about, such as harvesting rice alongside a farmer in his rice paddy and wading in a pond and catching fish with my bare hands.
The Boren Fellowship gave me critical hands-on experience, allowing me to grow personally, linguistically, and professionally. This experience is crucial to my ultimate goal of leading organizations in identifying and implementing innovative solutions to complex problems such as poverty. I would be honored to have a career working for the U.S. Government, and am particularly interested in Economic Empowerment in Strategic Regions, an initiative of the State Department's Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs, and the Global Development Alliance, a USAID initiative.
Written: February 2011