I chose to study and research in Romania because of my interests in agriculture, namely, how peasants preserve traditional farming methods when confronted by agribusinesses. In my graduate program, I am studying the complexities of the food supply system and the preference for large, industrial farms over small family farms, an issue that threatens the livelihoods of many Romanian farmers. While abroad, I explored the difference in the meaning of food security to nation states and peasants, while dramatically improving my language skills.
During my fieldwork, I talked to farmers and attended agricultural festivals and farmers’ markets, all the while trying to understand these different approaches to food security. I was privileged to eat plenty of ethnic foods and discovered a variety of foods that never show up in supermarkets. I even spent some time in the Carpathian Mountains cutting wildflower hay pastures with a scythe and sleeping in the fresh cut hay at night, an experience that, when combined with interacting in Romanian, left a pronounced imprint upon me.
My language skills improved so much that I was able to speak Romanian effortlessly under stress and in complex situations, such as dealing with bureaucracy, where even native speakers face difficulty. Spending time between an urban university and rural peasant community allowed me to experience a wide spectrum of society and enriched my cultural experience. As a result of my experience abroad, I hope to complete my service requirement in the Department of State or in the Foreign Agricultural Service.
Boren is a fantastic program in that it provides incredible freedom and I would advise future applicants to think broadly about the possibilities. Boren is unique in that it allows graduate students to operate outside of a structured university or an exchange program environment. As a Boren Fellow, you have the opportunity to design a program that truly suits your interests. In addition, although finding a job is rarely an easy endeavor, the service requirement is a useful component because it recognizes that Boren funding is generously made available through the use of public funds.
Written: January 2014