By Robyn J. Emory Murray

The Boren Fellowship funds U.S. citizens with an interest in government service to live abroad for a year and study a language vital to the national security of the United States. As a Boren Fellow, I currently live in the culturally diverse Kunming, China and am learning Mandarin in both the classroom and daily interactions.    

Those interested in the Boren Fellowship are expected to develop their own program for study, which includes the selection of a country, a language, a city, and an academic program. I chose to come to Kunming because there are fewer English speakers here and I could truly immerse myself in Mandarin. While difficult, this opportunity is helping me learn and practice Mandarin in a way that would be impossible elsewhere. I have also established relationships with locals, which not only improves my language ability but also helps me better understand the Chinese culture. 

I also sought out Kunming because it is the location of Yunnan Normal University (云南师范大学), a top-tier university in the region. At YNNU, I exclusively study Mandarin full-time. The program includes courses on listening, speaking, reading, and comprehension for a total of 18 hours per week of class time. Outside of class, I read books in Mandarin, watch Mandarin television shows and communicate with locals in my neighborhood. I have tried to inundate my life with the language and culture as much as possible to get the most I can from my time in China. The Boren Fellowship is an amazing opportunity to immerse myself in local culture, and I don’t want to miss a moment. 

The Boren Fellowship requires that its applicants submit a developed study and research topic as well as plans for fulfilling the government service requirement in the form of a cohesive proposal. This is not an easy process, to say the least, but if you are serious about learning a foreign language and working with the U.S government, then you’re likely to put in the work it takes to create an excellent application.

The key to grant essays, in my experience, is to confidently frame your accomplishments in a way that speaks to suitability for the specific program. This is where working with Dr. Anna Beskin in the Office of Prestigious Fellows has been integral. With Dr. Beskin’s help, I was able to take a very raw draft and make it into a winning essay.

For those who are interested in applying for the Boren Fellowship, the biggest piece of advice I have is to trust the process. Writing a Personal Statement requires a lot of editing. It took me about ten drafts of each essay to get it to where it needed to be. So don’t wait until the last minute to start.

Throughout the process the Office of Prestigious Fellows, the IPED program, professors and administrators have all been an enormous source of support. With their help and my various experiences, both educational and practical, I am in a position to enter into public service with the US government in a role that will utilize Mandarin on a daily basis. I hope to work as an Asia-Pacific regional political and economic specialist, so language proficiency and residency in China will have positioned me to succeed in this role.

I am grateful for the opportunity to represent Fordham University abroad and wish you success in your own application process!