Natalie Breen wanted a fellowship that was language-centric and would allow her to gain needed language skills and cultural experiences that she could put to use in a career. In addition to her graduate studies in international relations and international economics at Johns Hopkins, SAIS, she also minored in Middle East Studies. Strategically, Natalie acknowledges, “I chose Arabic because I plan on being a lifelong student of the Middle East. I believe that in order to truly know and understand a region, you must speak its language.” Specifically, she studied modern standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic dialect, which she believed would help her not only learn about the culture, but live it.
During her time overseas, she gained a broader understanding of the culture and politics of Egypt by communicating with Egyptians both inside and outside the classroom. She found it most valuable to be able to speak with different types of people in Cairo about their daily lives and views on the political transition happening in Egypt. To Natalie, those 11 months in Egypt on the Boren Award were more beneficial and eye-opening in teaching about the culture than anything she had learned in the classroom back home. Natalie looks back and appreciates all of the long lasting relationships she built with her classmates, teachers and friends. While admitting there were difficult moments, she is grateful for those she met that gave her strength to overcome adversaries and helped her shape an understanding of the country and her experiences there.
She found her status as a Boren Fellow set her apart from other applicants during a time of economic hardship, allowing her to “catch the eye” of her current employer, the U.S. Department of State. Natalie works as a new media producer and her team is responsible for producing regional webchats for foreign audiences and US Embassies engaging in virtual public diplomacy. The language skills she acquired during her time in Egypt have been indispensable, as she has helped produce Arabic language webchats, communicating U.S. foreign policy objectives to Arabic speaking viewers in countries such as Egypt and Morocco. Her primary role involves a lead in the production and logistics side of the operation, helping her team evolve with the changing priorities of the Bureau.