Graduate Student Receives Boren Fellowship to Study in Ukraine
Boren Fellowship winner Brian Couzelis will be immersed in the Ukrainian language at Lugansk University, while completing his master’s degree through online courses at UT Dallas.
With a few years of Peace Corps service under his belt and a desire to return overseas, Brian Couzelis found the perfect graduate program at UT Dallas.
A master’s degree in international political economy, he figured, would give him a solid background in both politics and economics, and also enable him to study policy and development issues related to different geographic regions.
“I liked living overseas, and really want to do economic and social development work. I came to UT Dallas to consolidate what I’d learned,” said Couzelis.
His perseverance and accomplishments have been recognized with a David L. Boren Fellowship from the National Security Education Program. The year-long fellowships provide up to $24,000 for graduate study in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Couzelis is the second Boren Fellowship winner from UT Dallas. In 2005, Sarah Islam received the fellowship.
“I’m deeply appreciative of all the staff and professors at UT Dallas who were extremely supportive throughout the whole process,” said Couzelis.
For his fellowship year, Couzelis will return to his former Peace Corps turf in Eastern Ukraine, this time with his wife and 5-month-old son. He will be immersed in the Ukrainian language at Lugansk University near the Russian border and will continue studying Russian with a tutor, all the while completing his master’s degree through online courses at UT Dallas.
Couzelis said his affinity for travel began early. He recalled being influenced by missionaries who visited his church. His first trip overseas involved four months of teaching English at a missionary-run orphanage in Arequipa, Peru.
His father, a business developer for Lockheed Martin who spent part of his career in the Middle East, also contributed to the wanderlust by taking Couzelis on trips to Greece and Egypt.
But he really began honing in on Eastern Europe while helping Bosnian refugees in his hometown. Though Utica, N.Y., has a population of only 60,000, it is a destination city for international refugees. Some 40 languages are spoken in the local school district.
Couzelis is glad to be heading back to Ukraine. He said the villagers there may take a while to warm up to visitors, but they eventually tend to be very loyal friends.
“When they don’t know you, no one talks or smiles. There’s no chitchat. But when you get to know them, you’d better be ready to sit down and have coffee. They are your friends for life,” Couzelis said.
After completing the fellowship, Couzelis will work a year for the federal government, probably with the Department of Defense or the State Department. That’s where he hopes to end up someday, or maybe pursue a career with a nonprofit organization overseas.
Dr. Jennifer Holmes, head of the Public Policy and Political Economy Department at the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, was not surprised that Couzelis received the award.
“Brian is just a perfect candidate for the Boren Fellowship. He will be able to absorb the culture and language, and also see the strategic picture of an area. He has the language background and a proven stability with overseas experiences. He thrives in a new environment, and this will give him so many opportunities,” said Holmes.
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