Kassidy DeMaio ’22 has been awarded a Boren Scholarship to study Arabic in Jordan. Kassidy is a political science and Arabic studies double major with a minor in nonprofit studies. We talked to her about her degree program and how the Boren Scholarship will help her achieve her academic and career goals.
The Boren Scholarship is a prestigious, nationally recognized award. When did you decide to apply for it and what was the process like?
My Arabic studies advisor told me about the scholarship and suggested I apply. That same day, a co-worker also mentioned it to me and suggested I apply. I met with an advisor in the University Fellowship Office and they agreed that this scholarship was a good fit for my education and career goals.
I then worked with several professors to craft the best possible application. My Arabic instructor and mentor, Jodi Khater, was enormously helpful. Tara Di Cassio (‘10) was also very supportive; Ms. Di Cassio was a Boren Fellow (2014-15) so her advice was invaluable. Initially, I did not know how to approach the application, but I had so much support from faculty and staff that they really made the process manageable. There were so many drafts and rewrites involved that just applying was a commitment I had to juggle with my classes and work schedule. In the end, I am so glad I did.
Where will you go with your scholarship and has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your plans?
I received the scholarship in May of 2020 and had originally planned to study in Amman, Jordan, from September 2020 to May 2021. However, because of the pandemic, I had to postpone my travels and will now be in Jordan from June to December of this year. It was disappointing, but the pandemic has upended so much for so many. Instead of studying abroad this year, I have continued doing research at the Khayrallah Center on campus, working as a TA for three different classes, and am now teaching English to orphaned children in Morocco via Zoom with the organization Yallah al-Quds.
I’m really looking forward to returning to Jordan. I will engage in intensive language and dialect study at the Sijal Institute in Amman.
So, this will not be your first study abroad experience?
No, I spent the summer of 2019 studying in Jordan with NC State’s Jordan Study Abroad program. That was my first international experience. Before I left, I was a little nervous about some of the unknowns—like flying over the ocean and adjusting to a new culture—but it was such a great experience and I learned so much. It’s one thing to learn a foreign language in a classroom and quite another to be completely immersed in the culture and language with native speakers for an extended period of time. The experience was rewarding beyond my expectations.
How did you become interested in studying Arabic language and cultures?
I am originally from Long Island, New York. My father worked on the 9/11 clean up effort. I grew up with a lot of people who were affected by the tragedy of that day. At that time, much of what I heard about the Middle East and Arabic speakers was negative. That left me with many questions and the desire to know more about the Middle East. My curiosity led me to enroll in an Arabic language class as a college freshman.
It was challenging at first to approach a language with a completely different alphabet and way of reading (right to left), but the more I learned, the more I enjoyed it. I can now say that learning Arabic has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. This language is ancient and it is in so many different parts of the world; being an Arabic speaker has expanded my world view in ways I never imagined possible.
You are an Arabic and political science double major. How do those disciplines compliment each other?
I have always been interested in working for the federal government which led me to political science. I took Professor Moog’s government and politics of the Middle East class and loved it. He had a big influence on me. I spent a lot of time talking to him about his experience in Afghanistan and his expertise in Middle Eastern affairs. He helped me further my develop my understanding of the complex topics outside of the classroom.
I also loved Professor Mahoney’s national security class. He has such great stories about real world experiences that I really learned a lot. I also began working with him curating and researching information for his Global Lab for Human Security project. His class gave me a better sense of the career path I will likely pursue — something in counterterrorism or working on policy with a think tank. I think graduate school will help narrow my focus.
While I am still not sure of the exact career path I will follow, every time I become interested in a new area, I have found a political science class that deals with that material, and excellent professors who have deepened my knowledge and understanding of complex issues and problems in need of solutions.
Do you have any advice for students considering applying for the Boren or similar scholarships?
Say “yes” to all the opportunities you are afforded. Just go for it even if the opportunity seems hard or you don’t think you’ll succeed. If it doesn’t work out, move on to the next opportunity. Honestly, I did not think I was going to receive a Boren scholarship, but I had friends and faculty who believed in me, so I put together the best application I could. I also strongly suggest trying things outside of your discipline and your comfort zone, and ask for help when you need it. We have so many amazing resources and people at NC State who want to help us. Take advantage of these resources. College is the time to explore new things even if you think you are going to fail.
Read more about NC State’s 2020 Boren Scholarship awardees in DeMaio, Weinberg receive Boren Scholarships.