“I find Central Asia one of the most interesting and beautiful places on earth,” says Middlebury Institute International Environmental Policy student Stephanie Gentle MAIEP '16, who is currently working in Kyrgyzstan as a Boren Fellow. As part of her fellowship, Stephanie is learning her eighth and ninth languages, Kyrgyz and Uzbek, as well as conducting research in her field of interest. Her dream is to work on trans-boundary initiatives in the mountain regions of Central Asia that balance biodiversity conservation and improving people’s livelihoods.
Stephanie came to MIIS with a graduate degree in international relations from the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. Her thesis focused on trans-boundary water cooperation in Central Asia, and the following summer she spent a month in Uzbekistan learning about environmental security challenges and opportunities facing Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. At MIIS she used every assignment as an opportunity to explore these issues further, with a focus on the environmental challenges and community opportunities. A turning point came when she met former president of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva through the Graduate Initiative in Russian Studies program. “Thanks to this unique opportunity, made possible by Professor Anna Vassilieva, I established a correspondence with President Otunbayeva’s organization and began focusing all of my efforts on Kyrgyzstan.”
The highly competitive Boren Fellowship provides financial support to U.S. graduate students to add an important international and language component to their graduate education through specialization in area study, language study, or increased language proficiency. Although Russian is understood almost everywhere in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz is the definitive mother tongue, especially in rural regions, and Uzbek is spoken widely in southern Kyrgyzstan. “So,” explains Stephanie, “at my internship in Bishkek I speak Russian with my colleagues, but at the project locations it’s either Kyrgyz or Uzbek. Most international experts I've met only speak Russian but do not speak Kyrgyz or Uzbek, and I found out really quickly how much of an advantage it is to speak one of these languages.” Her experience has motivated her to continue learning lesser spoken languages. “It has really opened my eyes to the value—and the fun—of being able to communicate in local languages.”
15 Schools in 5 Days
Stephanie recently produced a video about her experience so far in Kyrgyzstan. We’ve encouraged her to keep us posted as her adventure in Central Asia continues!