Congratulations to Boren Scholarship Awardee Kyra Solomon! Here are some of her thoughts about Boren and its application process:

What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Boren affords you?

I am very excited to have received the Boren Scholarship to study Mandarin in Beijing, China. Studying abroad in Beijing will give me the unique opportunity to learn more directly about the relations between the U.S and China by significantly advancing my language skills and taking upper level courses on topics with implications for U.S. national security. I have reached the Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing level of Mandarin at William & Mary so I believe that combining Peking University’s intensive summer program with the more advanced Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies at Tsinghua University in the fall semester will give me the best resources to become fluent and achieve my career goal of working as a foreign affairs policy analyst. I hope to use the programs I have chosen to develop my cultural knowledge and augment my Chinese proficiency so that I can excel independently in a professional career in the national security arena.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

My recommenders included Professor Chun-yu Lu, Professor Elizabeth Losh, and my supervisor at AidData, Mengfan Cheng. These women have all inspired the type of character, intelligence, and leadership I hope to have in my professional career. My sophomore year, I took a Chinese Popular Culture class with Professor Lu and she was my Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing professor last semester. I loved learning about the vast range of Chinese cinema, music, and literature with Prof. Lu and got to do some pretty neat projects that really expanded my interest and knowledge of Chinese culture. I took my COLL 150 class “Media Seductions,” a Digital Journalism class, and a pre-class to the “News & New Media” W&M DC Summer Institute with Professor Losh. I loved taking these courses because I have always been interested in journalism and media and was able to advance this interest through Prof. Losh’s comprehensive and productive teaching style. Lastly, Mengfan Cheng was my supervisor when I worked as Senior Research Assistant for the Tracking Under-reported Financial Flows (TUFF) team at AidData, a research lab at W&M. When I started at AidData the summer before my junior year it was my first real experience doing international relations research, and Mengfan was the one who taught me many important skills through her leadership with our projects on data collection and investigation. I owe a lot to these mentors and am very grateful that they think highly enough of me to write my recommendations.

What motivated you to apply for a Boren? How did you choose your country?

I have taken Chinese every semester at W&M and it has consistently been one of my favorite classes. I have enjoyed learning the language itself, its cultural aspects, as well as connecting it to my studies in International Relations and Economics. The sheer scope of Chinese speakers around the world and the ties that the U.S. has to China makes Chinese extremely important to U.S. national security. Having knowledge of Chinese language is helpful for tasks like gathering data, reading Chinese sources, and engaging in diplomatic discussions to augment understanding of Chinese actions in security areas such as international development aid and geopolitics. After my experience interning at the White House last summer it solidified the idea that I want to work in a federal and public service capacity, and I knew Boren would allow me to focus on developing professional qualifications that I could apply to working in foreign affairs. My career goal has been to work in a national security capacity, so when I heard that Boren would allow me study abroad and improve my Chinese skills, with the stipulation of working for the U.S. government afterwards, this seemed like the perfect fit for me!

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I think this process made me realize what it is that I really want to do. As a senior, I was of course applying to more than a few positions and future opportunities, but deep down I knew that I wanted Boren the most. I was confident in my abilities, but I also know how many talented students apply and how many talented students do not receive the scholarship as well. So when I heard that I got the award it made me realize how much I actually wanted it and in doing so, has made me much more sure of my future path, one that starts with walking with my fellow seniors in May, learning and having adventures in China, and returning home to have a successful career working in the field of peace and security. I’m excited!

What are you most proud of in your application? What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Boren applicants?  

I am proud of the essay I had to write explaining the significance of my proposed country and language to U.S. national security. Through the work I have done with the Global Research Institute on campus, I was able to make my essay very personalized and detailed. I spoke about how bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have been strained recently due to a number of issues with important implications for U.S. national security interests. I referenced new data regarding China’s development finance, which I helped to code and analyze while working at AidData and how China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative has raised concerns from U.S. experts and politicians about China’s strategy and motivations. Such concerns are exacerbated by China’s secretive party structure, and because the threat to U.S. interests posed by the initiative is understudied and has potential misunderstandings such foreign policy issues would benefit from further study of the country and Mandarin language as China continues to rise as an economic and world power.

So some advice I would give is to definitely try and make a niche argument in your first essay for why your country is important for U.S. interests. If you can connect it to your own studies, experiences, or goals that is even better. And use the Charles Center to read over your essays too!

Congratulations again to Kyra, and all of W&M’s other Boren awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Boren or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or come to the Charles to ask a PSA Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!