Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2007-2008
Sponsor Club: Petersburg, Illinois USA (district 6460)
Host Club: Marlow Thames England (district 1090)
University of Oxford, Master of Science Degree in Global Governance & Diplomacy
Courses: Diplomatic Practice, International Relations of the Developing World, US International Relations since 1945, Social Science Research Methods, International Negotiations Theory, Global Governance (Audit), Political Islam (Audit)
Dissertation: Just National Interests: Religious identity and the value of non-American life in U.S. Foreign Policy
My academic experience at Oxford will be invaluable as I go forward to further my professional, academic, and humanitarian pursuits in the future. It is a sad but true fact that earning a Masters degree at an elite university, such as Oxford, gives a person instant credibility (which was a significant factor in my decision to enroll at Oxford). While I am disgusted by the notion of flaunting this degree around as a status symbol, I am very pleased that my vision, ideas, and philosophical ideals will garner more respect (or at least not be as easily dismissed as nave) in the debate on how America should proceed into the 21st century.
In fact, I am already benefiting from the credibility that comes along with earning a Masters degree from Oxford University. Upon my return home, I was immediately offered the position of Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to a U.S. Congressional Candidate in the 2008 elections. My training at Oxford prepared me perfectly to carry out the duties of debate preparation, policy advising, and surrogate representative throughout the election season. Even now, during these tough economic times, I have been offered two separate jobs- teaching international politics in Burma or working in the U.S. Senate for Assistant Majority Leader, Dick Durbin.
My year spent in England and traveling throughout Europe has changed my outlook on both England and my home country of America. One, I absolutely love the English sense of humor. The Office is my favorite comedy back home and my first time watching the English version I thought to myself, this must be the worst remake ever. That is, until I learned it was the original. But after spending more time in England and watching more episodes, I was dying of laughter and thought Ricky Gervais must be a genius. So, in short, I fell in love with the accent, humor, and outlook of the British people. It is a subtler and a slightly more cynical outlook on the world then what we have in America. The English seem to have a much deeper connection with history and know firsthand the trials, the suffering, and the difficulty associated with social change. For example, one of my favorite moments of the year was on Remembrance Day, on 11/11, when I stood on the streets of London and watched The Queen place a wreath on the War Memorial. Although there were thousands of people packed into the streets, there was absolute silence as Big Ben struck loudly 11 times. The only other noise that broke through the silence was the occasional sob from someone in the audience as they looked along the River Thames and remembered the Nazi bombs falling on their city during World War II. War was not a distant, mythical event for these people, but a real tragedy built into their very social and historical identity. That historical identity, in combination with the overreach and tyrannical abuse of power by both King and Church had seemed to make the English people particularly weary and distrustful of institutions and to promises of hope and progress.
The most enduring characteristic of England that remains in my mind is its outward-looking and global focus of its people. The British people were following the 2008 Presidential primaries almost as closely as were Americans. They were also keenly aware of other global events and were actively engaged in following them. I have my own theories on the reasons for this, such as: their empirical history as global colonizers, their close proximity to and active participation in a diverse Europe, and their geographic space limited to a relatively small island. But regardless of the reason for Englands outward-looking mentality, it has opened my eyes to the deficiency of this characteristic within the United States. Studying in England has revealed to me that Americans (for the most part) do not have a global outlook and are quite insulated in their exposure to issues facing other parts of the world. This is a view held by many Europeans, and it was openly expressed to me during my Rotary club visits. I made it a mission of mine during my club visits to show that some Americans from the heartland can have an intelligent, open, and global outlook on the world.
In applying for this scholarship, I expressed my intentions for going to Oxford England rather than going to the developing world. The reason was that I had already experienced the life-changing exposure to life in the poorest countries and now I needed the educational opportunities available at Oxford University in order to acquire the knowledge, the training, and the credibility needed to find solutions to some of the global problems we face today. Therefore, as an ambassador of goodwill at Oxford, I did not start any life-altering projects and instead spent the majority of my time learning and obtaining skills for the future. However, in every situation I tried to represent myself, my Rotary club, and my nation to the best of my ability. I hope that everyone with whom I interacted, whether on a personal level or giving a presentation to a specific club, came away with a better understanding and a better impression of what it means to be an American.
I had many experiences that will forever shape my worldview and the direction of my life. Many of them came from coursework and many more came from personal interactions with international students with remarkable backgrounds, cultures, and ideas to share with me. Growing up, my dream was always to play football at the university of Notre Dame. Looking down at my Oxford basketball jersey before I ran out on the court to play in the Varsity game against Cambridge, I had to say a little prayer of thanks to God for the way my life had turned out. I had so many of these life-affirming moments when I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be and doing what I was meant to do. Going forward I know that my vocation in life is to be a bridge between the developing world and the United States. We need more Americans who also see themselves as Global citizens with global responsibilities. I am starting up a not for profit that utilizes social media to engage young people with these ideas. It is called Live OneWorld, and a lot of my ideas for the organization are the result of my experiences as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at Oxford.
I describe Rotary to my friends and family as a worldwide network of professionals devoted to making the world a better place. The Ambassadorial Scholarship is a program devoted to allowing high-achieving college students to travel abroad, study, learn from and interact with different cultures and people in order to increase international peace through understanding. Then when these young people return to their host countries and begin their professional lives they can approach their work with a global understanding, a philosophy of service, and a worldwide network of like-minded contacts.
I knew very little about Rotary before I received the Ambassadorial Scholarship, but the training materials, the orientations (both outbound and incoming), and conversations with my sponsor and host counselors helped prepare me in every aspect for my scholarship experience. At the orientations I learned about the Rotary philosophy, all the different major Rotary programs, and practical experience giving a speech in front of a Rotary audience. My sponsor District Governor, Ron Riggins, could not have been more helpful. He took me under his wing, gave me support (including his own personal financial support), and helped me understand how Rotary works. My sponsor counselor, Norm Jones, met with me multiple times and made me an honorary member of our Petersburg club. They treated me like a local celebrity and had me ride on the float in the Harvest Fest parade. My host counselor, Ian Campbell, contacted me before my trip and met me at the airport. He took me back to his place and had me mow the yard, which was perfect for me and made me feel right at home. I hated having everyone take care of me and so it was nice to be able to give back even in a small way. One way that I would improve the orientation process is by putting us in contact with Ambassadorial Scholars who just returned from the exact location we are going. If I could have spoken immediately with a recent Oxford Ambassadorial Scholar just to run down the whole experience for me, then it would have answered a lot of questions and fears I had going into the process.
The advice I would give to new Ambassadorial Scholars in regards to their upcoming experience is make sure you take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. One year is a short time and this might be the only chance you get to live in this other country, so dont let school get in the way of learning. Also, when you visit clubs in your sponsor district before you leave be sure to get their e-mails (or the e-mail of the club president) and give them the address of your blog. Keep a blog! Update it often with the cool new experiences you are having. One regret I have is that I didnt continually update my blog because I didnt think any Rotarians were really checking it, that is until I got home and many chastised me for not keeping it updated. Also, be sure to find cool unique aspects of your hometown to share with your host clubs. Bring a gift and be funny in your speeches because everyone enjoys to laugh and be entertained. Also, I regret not bringing home cool gifts from my time abroad and giving them to clubs and Rotarians back home.
I will definitely continue to stay involved in Rotary for the rest of my life. I am traveling too much right now to become a Rotary member but I plan on joining a club in the future when I get more established. I am willing to participate in any orientations where I can be of service (as long as I can afford the travel expenses). I have been recommending candidates to apply for the scholarship and one of my friends actually received the scholarship as a result. I would also like to work with Rotary to fit the needs of a new generation as we enter the 21st century. Everywhere I went the same two problems with Rotary came up: 1) We are not a secretive society and we need to do a better job marketing who we are and what we are about 2) We do not want to become an old mens club and need to a younger more diverse group. I would like my new not for profit, Live OneWorld, to help Rotary meet these challenges. I am so thankful to Rotary for the opportunity they have given me as an Ambassadorial Scholar. If I had not received this scholarship then I would not have had the chance to study at Oxford. I would not have had the chance to meet so many amazing people and develop so many new ideas to help create a better world. And I would not be the person that I am now. Thank you and I will spend the rest of my life trying to pay back the investment you have made in me.
Postcript (November 2012):
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back The idea of the Rotary Foundation sponsoring 'Ambassadors of Goodwill' began in 1947 and since then over 31,000 scholars have travelled and studied in over 100 countries.