Ravi Romel Sharma
Ravi Romel Sharma
2007 Boren Scholarships
University of Pittsburgh
I chose to apply for the Boren Scholarship, most of all, because I wanted to improve my Hindi while truly experiencing everyday life in the heartland of India. My parents spoke Hindi at home, so I could already follow conversations well. But, because I had visited India a number of times before applying for the Boren Scholarship, I knew that I needed to improve my language skills in order to get an insider’s view. In addition to these personal goals, as a religious studies major, I hoped to deepen my understanding of India’s diverse religions in particular, and learn more about the dynamics of religious pluralism in democratic societies in general. Another factor was India’s growing importance to the United States. The two countries had announced a multifaceted “strategic partnership” in 2005, and President Bush had also identified Hindi as a “critical-need” language in the National Security Language Initiative in early 2006.
As a Boren Scholar in Varanasi, India, I took four semesters of Hindi over the course of one year (including the summer). The classes consisted of four to six students and combined written and conversational Hindi. The lessons varied with the professor, but formal study was an important complement to the informal learning I got through day-to-day life. In my free time, I spent many hours on my old bicycle exploring Varanasi, a city which dates back to ancient times. Though it is well-known for its important place in Hinduism, many people don’t know that the city also has a very large Muslim population. I chose to pursue an independent study on curricular reform in madrassas, or Muslim seminaries, which many children attend as an alternative to government-run public schools. Conducting interviews with local residents helped me to attain advanced speaking proficiency in Hindi by the time of my departure.
When I returned home, I pursued a joint degree (JD/MA) in law and international affairs at the Fletcher School (Tufts University) and the University of Virginia School of Law. After the first year of the program, I got a summer fellowship from an international microfinance institution, and I returned to India to work on a poverty alleviation program that an Indian development organization was then pioneering. Without my knowledge of Hindi and research experience as a Boren Scholar, I would not have been able to compete for the fellowship. The internship provided terrific on-the-ground experience, allowing me to utilize my language skills and cultural familiarity toward a specific end. In addition, it has better positioned me for national security work with the federal government. Since graduating in May 2011, I have been working as a judicial law clerk—another great steppingstone to federal government employment.
My advice for potential Boren Scholars is to use college, first and foremost, to engage with big ideas. College offers you the flexibility to let your mind wander—which is harder to do in professional school and in the working world. Take full advantage of that, but also try to develop one or two concrete skills. Whether it’s becoming conversant in a foreign language, knowing how to write a really solid persuasive essay, understanding the basics of financial accounting, or learning to do and interpret statistical analysis, you can push your own boundaries with few downside risks. Spending time abroad, and truly immersing yourself in a place outside your comfort zone, is an ideal way to accomplish both goals. Just as importantly, you will build basic life skills and unlock additional educational and professional opportunities.
Written: March 2013