Beginning in July, John Humphrey ’13 will get an opportunity many people dream about, but few are able to make happen. The international studies and Spanish double major will spend 12 months in Brazil, learning Portuguese and immersing himself in the culture, thanks to the David L. Boren Award for International Study.
Sponsored by the Institute of International Education, and funded by the National Security Education Program, the multi-level scholarship goes to U.S. undergraduate students to study abroad in areas of the world that are critical to the country’s interests and often underrepresented, such as Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Humphrey, who earned the maximum amount or $20,000, learned about the scholarship after taking Great Works from Uschi Appelt, who also directs Hanover’s study abroad program.
“I suggested the Boren to him, because he is genuinely devoted to studying foreign languages,” said Appelt. “It is not very common for U.S. students to show this level of commitment to and engagement with languages and other cultures.”
“I’ve always had a fascination with languages,” added Humphrey. “It’s a way to unlock another culture and the people in it. Even around here, I play soccer in the (local) Latin-American league. You gain a different sense of trust (with the players) if you speak Spanish.”
While one of the goals of the Boren scholarhip is to make students culturally literate, Humphrey believes the program will help improve the U.S.’s reputation in Latin America.
“It will help them see that Americans really do care about other cultures, without (having) ulterior motives,” he said.
He applied for the Boren, as well as the Critical Language Scholarship, during the winter of his sophomore year, but didn’t get it. Humphrey didn’t let the rejection stop him, especially after Appelt, Associate Professor of Spanish Luis Aguilar-Monsalve and Associate Professor of Anthropology David Buchman — all of whom he considers his mentors — urged him not to give up.
Thanks to his professor’s generosity, Humphrey was able to extend a spring term trip during his sophomore year to Ecuador by several months and perform an internship at a corporate law firm. While there, he stayed at Aguilar-Monsalve’s home in Cumbayá, near the capital city of Quito. Not only did the time help him become fluent, it also cemented Humphrey’s future plans.
“You know you’re fluent in another language when you can tell tasteless jokes or fight with your girlfriend or talk about mundane things,” he said. “To me, language is more than a way to communicate; it’s a way to convey emotions and ideas. That’s (how) I knew that Latin America was where I wanted to be.”
During his stay, Humphrey spent an evening with friends discussing how closely tied the U.S. had become to Brazil, which got him thinking that Portuguese might be the next language he should learn. In addition, his brother is a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and studying the language, which made it even more appealing.
“(My brother) made it clear to me that Brazil is a very important component of the U.S. building relationships (within) Latin America,” said Humphrey. “They’re the most powerful country there, by far.”
After a few months wait, Humphrey learned he was one of 151 students out of 1,014 who applied for a Boren scholarship to actually earn one; his emotions overcame him.
“I bawled my eyes out. Having tried and failed, then worked as hard as I could and finally having that dream realized, it’s just the most indescribable feeling. (From having) that simple conversation in a café in Ecuador to something like this is life changing for me. What humbles me the most is that so many people from the Hanover community came together to help make this dream of mine possible. I owe everything to them.”
One of the requirements of the scholarship is that Humphrey must commit to working for the federal government for at least one year, in a position with national security responsibilities from a broadly defined spectrum.
“This time in Brazil will be very important for (Humphrey),” said Buchman. “He already has lots of experience spending many months living and working Ecuador. Living and learning in Brazil will just add to his knowledge and experience of Latin America for any future plans he may have there.
Eventually, Humphrey would like to pursue law school and possibly work for the Office of Chief of Counsel for the Food and Drug Administration, dealing with food supply and policy issues. He is hopeful being trilingual would make him a highly sought after candidate.
One of Humphrey’s professional goals is to become a legal mediator between the U. S. and Latin America.
“I don’t want to be just an interpreter. I want to be the individual my country trusts and can do it all.”
Published Tuesday, May 15, 2012