Karissa Jackson ’14 to spend year in Russia as Boren Scholar
When Karissa Jackson ’14 was a high school student in Fort Knox, Ky., she checked a box on her ROTC scholarship application that offered a chance to get more funding for college. The catch? She would have to study a “critical language.” The language turned out to be Russian, and although she is no longer in ROTC, her passion for Russian is unabated.
In May, she learned that she will spend a year in Moscow as Centre’s first Boren Scholar, studying the language she so loves.
Boren awards support undergraduate study abroad in areas deemed critical to U.S. national security. Jackson was one of just 161 Boren Scholars named from a pool of 1,014 applications. The award is named for David L. Boren, who as a U.S. senator was the principal author of the legislation that created the National Security Education Program, a federal initiative to develop foreign language and international skills in support of U.S. national security.
What appeals to Jackson about Russian? Partly it’s the language’s complexity and difficulty, she says.
“It doesn’t feel like work when I’m studying Russian,” says Jackson. “It’s like a giant game with a lot of parts. If you get one sentence right it feels like, ‘Aha, I got it!’”
The Boren award will enable her to take classes at Moscow Humanities University. She will also study human rights issues among Moscow’s growing migrant worker population through an internship with the International Office of Migration, an intergovernmental organization.
“Russia does not have the best record in human rights,” she notes. “And women migrants are more susceptible to human rights violations. I’m going to try to give them a voice.”
The daughter of an Army family, Jackson credits her frequent moves growing up with helping to ease any apprehension she might otherwise feel about spending a year more than 5,000 miles from home. Her military background also helped shape her long-held career goal in national security.
It’s a goal that was nearly derailed, however, when she was diagnosed with narcolepsy last year. The treatment meant she lost both her ROTC scholarship and her dreams of becoming an Air Force foreign area officer.
“It was a very dark time in my life,” she admits. “I was losing all of my money for college. All of my dreams and all of my career aspirations were down the drain. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a foreign area officer in the Air Force, and then that all disappeared.”
Because she had had to commute to the University of Kentucky for her ROTC classes, it had not been much of a burden to also pick up the Russian language classes she needed. (Centre’s limited Russian offerings had stopped by the time she enrolled.) After she lost her ROTC scholarship—the whole reason she was studying Russian—she decided to continue anyway.
Late in the spring she learned that those Russian classes had been worth it when she was named a Boren Scholar. “I realized that there are other ways to serve the country than in the military,” she says. Her new goal is to be a foreign service officer.
It might seem odd to choose a college that does not offer a language essential to your scholarship, but not to Jackson. She’d wanted to attend Centre since visiting the campus as a high school junior. A summer as a Governor’s Scholar at Centre clinched it. She is now especially grateful for her college choice.
“The whole reason I found out about [the narcolepsy] was because my professors reported it,” she says. “They knew it wasn’t because I didn’t care that I was falling asleep in class. I just can’t imagine a big state school paying that much attention to someone sleeping in class. It’s just one of those Centre things.”
Jackson’s year in Russia will not be her first experience in the country. Last summer she spent three weeks in Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan, in Western Russia, as part of a program at Arizona State’s Critical Language Institute. This summer she returns for another two months in Kazan before moving Moscow.
“It was the best,” she says of her experience last summer. “Everything was an adventure. When you’re living in another country, the way you can apply your language skills is just incomparable. You can’t do it in a classroom. And it was so much fun.”