Summer Student Profiles: Global Professionals Abroad

Students and recent alumni discuss internships and language study in Europe and Central Asia.

Ruth Lied standing in front of Slovenian town
Photo courtesy of Ruth Lied

Name: Ruth Lied

Academic Status: Senior, Majors in International Studies and French

Summer Experience: US State Department Internship in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ruth’s childhood growing up in Macedonia has been vital to shaping her academic and career interests in the Balkan region. This summer she returned to the former Yugoslavia for an internship at the US Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she worked in multiple departments to get a feel for the life of a diplomat. “Being able to shadow officers during their daily meetings and tasks helped me better understand how an embassy functions,” she explains. She also notes that the experience has been instrumental in guiding her search for a graduate school program.

When not at her internship, Ruth took in the beauty of the Julian Alps and mingled with the locals. Her fluency in Macedonian allowed Ruth to connect with some Macedonian expats in Ljubljana, and she also met some other remarkable individuals, including Bill Murray and, as she relates, “the mayor of a town called Žalec, who took us on a visit to the beer fountain he helped build in the town square.”

In addition to her French studies at UW-Madison, Ruth is also currently taking Turkish, with support from a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) undergraduate scholarship.


Men squatting near a park gazebo in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Photo courtesy of Nick Seay

Name: Nicholas Seay

Academic Status: MA candidate, Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (REECAS)

Summer Experience: Persian language study in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Second-year REECAS student Nicholas Seay spent two months in Dushanbe, Tajikistan studying intensive Persian as a participant of the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program. The CLS program is a fully funded summer overseas language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. “Aside from the language instruction, another benefit of the CLS program was living with a Tajik host family. It really allowed me to interact with neighbors, make new friends, and, perhaps most interestingly, understand how important regional identities are in Tajikistan,” recalls Nicholas.

Studying Persian in Tajikistan also awarded Nicholas the opportunity to independently study and practice Tajik, the variety of Persian spoken in Tajikistan. While Iranian Persian and Tajik Persian are closely related, there are notable differences, both in their spoken and written forms. The CLS program also allowed Nicholas to see important historical sites near and around Dushanbe, as well as the city of Khujand in the north and Kulob in the south.

Nicholas hopes to continue to study both Iranian Persian and Tajik. He has been awarded a FLAS Fellowship for the 2017-18 school year, which will allow him to continue with Iranian Persian. After further studies in Tajik, he hopes to use his acquired language skills for historical research on Tajikistan in the late-Soviet period.


Vera Swanson and man at Expo 2017
Photo courtesy of USA Pavilion Expo 2017

Name: Vera Swanson

Academic Status: Graduated in 2017 with majors in Russian and Environmental Sciences

Summer Experience: US Student Ambassador, World Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan

Vera was wrapping up her final academic year of Russian language study at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University when she was selected to be one of 40 student ambassadors representing the United States at Expo 2017. Her academic interests in environmental science aligned perfectly with Expo’s theme of “Future Energy: Reducing CO2 emissions, living energy efficiency, and energy for all.” According to Vera, the student ambassadors “were there to give a face to our country, to provide conversation.” In that capacity, Vera utilized not only her fluency in Russian, but also some Kazakh. “Use of foreign language was critical in navigating the various situations that arose.”

As Vera returns home to her native Minnesota, she is considering how to best combine her love of languages and agriculture. During a recent conversation with one of her professors, she learned about the USDA’s National Plant Germplasm System, which ensures the genetic diversity of important crops. “Central Asia is home to a plethora of genetic diversity, and it would be a dream to facilitate access to genetic resources between the U.S. and Russian-speaking countries.”

Through her studies and work in Kazakhstan, Vera has also had the chance to form a relationship with her relatives there, whom she first met in 2015.


Lindsay McElhenie standing in front of Russian cathedral
Photo courtesy of Lindsay McElhenie

Name: Lindsay McElhenie

Academic Status: MA candidate, Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (REECAS)

Summer Experience: Russian language study in St. Petersburg, Russia

The history, cultural wealth, and conversation of St. Petersburg drew Lindsay to the Derzhavin Institute Russian Language School this summer, where she made strides in speaking and listening skills. Although advanced foreign language study is a central part of her master’s program, Lindsay asserts that the opportunity to expand her overall knowledge of historical and contemporary Russia may prove to be just as valuable. “Eventually,” she said, “I hope to use my regional knowledge and language skills in my future career… as a diplomat or foreign policy advisor.”

While admitting that a few months is not enough to explore all the treasures of the city on the Neva, Lindsay seemed content with her visits to the Hermitage, Mariinsky Theatre, and Akhmatova Museum, along with the historical landmarks of Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo located outside the city proper. Lindsay also found time for a weekend trip to Moscow, Russia’s capital.

Like countless other Dostoevsky fans, Lindsey was also struck by St. Petersburg’s literary past. “It was neat to be able to walk the streets of the city featured in one of my favorite novels, Crime and Punishment,” she said.