A passion for Middle Eastern studies will take Sangita Kanumalla '14 to Muscat, Oman for an academic year as a recipient of the prestigious Boren Scholarship.
The Boren Scholarship is a federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with critical foreign language and international skills and provides students with up to $20,000. This year, 165 scholarships were awarded out of an applicant pool of 868.
As a first generation Indian-American, visits to India allowed Sangita to gain a passion for traveling and living abroad, learning new languages, and immersing herself in different cultures. And as someone who came of age as U.S. forces fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, she has long been interested in the intersection of culture, politics, and religion found in that particular region.
"I grew up with the Iraq War on television and I was always interested in the Middle East," says Sangita. "But it wasn't until my freshman year when the Arab Spring happened that I really considered making religion and politics in the Middle East the focus of my studies. There was something about seeing all those people standing up for their freedom that really inspired me."
Sangita came to Bryn Mawr expecting to major in something like biology or perhaps even a classical language with an eye toward becoming a medical doctor. However her Arab Spring-fueled enthusiasm for Middle Eastern studies led her to take a concentrated Arabic course at the University of Pennsylvania during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years.
She then took several more courses at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore and before long had abandoned her pre-med plans to major in religion at Haverford with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies. She also decided to minor in political science.
"Thanks to the Tri-Co and other opportunities like study abroad, I've been able to attain a comprehensive understanding of the region through the study of language, literature, religion, history, and politics," says Sangita.
Since her initial course in Arabic at Penn, Sangita has studied the language steadily over the past three-and-a-half years. In the summer of 2012 she took part in an intensive Arabic program in Cairo and she returned to the city the following summer on the Judy L. Gould Scholarship to volunteer and pursue colloquial language study. However unrest in the region led her time there to be cut short and she had to finish up the program in Jordan.
"My two summers in Egypt were fascinating because I felt like the Arab Spring had started me on this journey," she says. "I was in Egypt when the Morsi regime was elected in the country's first democratic presidential elections but was also there when there were massive protests against the regime. It really shows just how complicated the situation is, and highlights the importance of U.S. engagement."
This summer, Sangita will be traveling to Jerusalem for ten days on a trip sponsored by Haverford's Center for Peace & Global Citizenship (CPGC) in conjunction with a class she took this semester on Jerusalem. In addition she was awarded the senior bridge grant by CPGC to intern and conduct research at an interfaith organization in Jordan for two months.
Once she's done with her education, Sangita hopes to pursue a masters or a law degree and eventually work in the Department of State's Foreign Service as a political or public diplomacy officer.
"This country has provided a lot of opportunities to my family and me, and I would love to be able to represent it abroad," says Sangita.