Nikki Kalbing

boren profiles

Nikki Kalbing

2012 Boren Fellowships

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Zulu, South Africa

Social Sciences

Both historically and contemporarily, South Africa has been regionally and internationally influential, making it a very relevant country to study. I am completing a Ph.D. on the legal history of Southern Africa, with a focus on KwaZulu-Natal; early in graduate school, I began studying Zulu as a research tool. When it came time for me to apply for overseas fellowships, it was a natural choice to apply for a Boren Fellowship. First, it offered the chance for me to continue language study while also conducting overseas research for my dissertation. Furthermore, the service requirement offers the chance to use my academic scholarship and regional expertise to inform government policy. 

This fall, I participated in the African Languages Initiative (AFLI) Zulu program at the University of Zululand. In addition to intensive language study, the program includes excursions throughout KwaZulu-Natal to sites of cultural and historical significance. Experiencing the physical geography of these places helps to make the history come alive. Travel has also shown the multiple ways people in South Africa live, which is important to recognize in a place of such incredible diversity. This spring, now that the AFLI program is over, I will research how Zulu community leaders, segregationist politicians and judicial officials have debated the use of law as a tool for segregating a culturally, linguistically and racially heterogeneous South Africa from 1910 to the 1950s. My dissertation focuses on the practices and discourses surrounding the Natal Native High Court, a judicial body that applied Zulu law until 1954. I use the Native High Court as a lens for examining country-wide debates about the effectiveness of racially dividing people into two legal spheres – one governed by European law and values, the other by African law and customs – at a time when society was becoming rapidly integrated through migration, education, and economics.

After I graduate, I would like to complete my government service requirement by working with the Department of State in a position that helps formulate U.S. policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a scholar, I have spent years developing in-depth knowledge of the language, history and culture of South Africa, and I would like to apply that that knowledge to government initiatives.

My advice for prospective Boren applicants is to research the types of government jobs that could fit your area of expertise. If possible, talk to people who have worked for the government agencies of interest. If you don't personally know people who work for the government, then ask friends and family if they know anyone, or talk to your institution’s career center to get some ideas. The process of talking to as many people as possible will help you both clarify your own career goals, as well as allow you to write informed essays on your Boren application. Furthermore, give yourself plenty of time to write several drafts of your essays, and ask your professors to edit your essays.

I have appreciated the flexibility of the Boren Fellowships for allowing students to construct an overseas program tailored to their individual needs. I am very much looking forward to the remainder of my program and strongly recommend the Boren Fellowship to anyone interested in translating their international academic experiences and language study into a career. 

Written: December 2012

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