Perry Copes II, from Philadelphia, PA, is earning his MA in International Relations from the Maxwell School with a focus on Global Security and Emerging Markets. In 2013, he was selected for the Critical Language Scholarship Program to study Persian in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. While at SU, he worked as a graduate assistant for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT). He was selected as a Boren Fellow for the 2014-15 year and will be continuing his study of Persian in Tajikistan from September to May 2015. Perry has agreed to check in with us periodically for updates on his experience!
1-How did you become interested in this language and region of the world?
I’ve always had an interest international affairs and U.S. Foreign Policy. Before coming to Maxwell I interned in Washington D.C. at a public policy think tank focusing on international security. I developed an affinity towards my research dealing with Iran and Afghanistan, which culminated in my decision to study Persian since it is the language of this region. Iran has a rich history and beautiful culture that has been disproportionately represented in western media. I wanted to learn more about this country and region outside the lens of traditional security matters. Persian is a “critical language” and by developing this linguistic proficiency, along with a regional expertise, I will be in better position to pursue a career with the U.S. Government.
2-You spent 2 months in Tajikistan in summer 2013. What are your thoughts as you settle in for 9 months of language study and cultural immersion?
I’ve been blessed with an amazing opportunity to dedicate an academic year to studying this language and culture. I feel much more prepared this time around because of my CLS experience in 2013. I know what my weaknesses are as a language student and plan to address them from the moment I step off the plane. Seeing how my language skills improved with just one summer gives me great confidence in what my abilities will be at the end of 9 months. As a student it’s often difficult to devote sufficient time to language study when you have other obligations due to a full course load; I can finally study Persian without the dark cloud of an economics test looming over my head! I know this will be a challenging experience but the gains in language proficiency and cultural expertise will be invaluable in my career. Lastly, I’ve heard Tajikistan can be a little rough in the winter, but that’s nothing that Syracuse hasn’t already prepared me for.
3-What will a typical day look like?
It depends on your personal study routine. I usually wake up around 7AM to review flashcards and eat breakfast. Speaking with my host family at the breakfast table serves a warm-up for the day. I have class 4 hours per day Monday-Friday. When classes are over I rest for a little before starting my homework. Some days I will go to lunch with my language partner to practice speaking. I try to go out and interact with the community as much as I can. Being exposed to the informal speech and colloquialisms in the community is a useful complement to the formal speech I am exposed to in the classroom. At the end of the day I go home and eat dinner my host family. This is another chance to practice speaking before preparing for the next day. On the weekends I have down time where I go on cultural excursions, visit other cities in Tajikistan, or go to the bazaars to practice my bargaining skills.
4-Who is an interesting person that you’ve met?
I met the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan at my briefing in the embassy. At the embassy’s 4th of July BBQ I met other expats and employees of the U.S. Foreign Service community. It’s always interesting to hear the different backgrounds represented from across the U.S.
5-What are your hopes and goals for this year?
My main goal is to improve my Persian skills as much as possible. Additionally, I want to become more culturally engaged through my interactions. Staying for an academic year allows me to be a cultural ambassador and represent the diversity that makes the U.S. great. Representing myself both as an American and as a minority in America, I will be able to introduce my background to a society that is largely unfamiliar. It’s this cultural exchange that will help break down the stereotypes people may have about parts of the world they have never been to.
6-Please share any advice for students interested in either the CLS or Boren programs.
First, really take the time to think about why you want these awards. CLS and/or Boren are very competitive and having this understanding will make your application essays strong. At Syracuse you have great resources at your disposal to put your best application forward. Reach out to faculty for their regional/cultural expertise, the SU Writing Center, and the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising. Second, be sure to highlight how the skills gained from CLS and/or Boren are directly transferrable to your future careers. Be assertive and make a strong case for why you should receive this award. Third, do not wait until the last minute, and proofread your essays 2471943576987 times. Lastly, have an open mind. Long-term immersion can be challenging and your experience will likely be much different than what you are used to in the U.S. You must realize that at the end of the day you are there to experience their culture and not the other way around. Embracing these differences will give you perspectives that produce lifelong benefits.