When deciding where to study abroad, Jake Miner wanted to travel somewhere wholly not American.
Miner petitioned the Office of Study Abroad to study in northern Syria for the 2011 spring semester, taking courses in Arabic to expand his understanding of the world outside of the United States.
“I really wanted to go to a place untouched by Americans,” Miner said. “Out of the past 12 months, I have lived abroad for eight of them. I worked in the West Bank last summer, I went to the World Cup last summer, I did a nonprofit program in South Africa and then I was in Syria for most of this year.”
That unique study abroad experience, along with his leadership on campus and internships, earned Miner the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship from the U.S. State Department. The fellowship is awarded to exemplary students prepared to enter the foreign service who have an interest in international affairs, political and economic analysis, administration, management or science policy.
The fellowship will cover Miner’s tuition for both senior year and graduate school. Fellows will also participate in two paid internships, one at an overseas embassy and one with the State Department in D.C., which Miner will complete throughout the next two summers.
“Pickering kind of pushes you through that process without having to go through the normal channel, but every Pickering fellow has to take the foreign service test,” Miner said.
The foreign service test consists of an intense written portion and a personal narrative, both of which contribute to a candidate’s approval for a further oral assessment and officer training.
“I’m really attracted to the idea of protecting American interests abroad and representing America on really what is becoming a more important frontline, which is the diplomatic frontline,” Miner said.
Miner began the Pickering application process prior to studying abroad, but it was his time in Syria that fueled his passion to join the foreign service.
Studying at the University of Aleppo in northern Syria during an especially turbulent time in the Middle East, Miner’s study abroad program was canceled in mid-April because of the Syrian uprisings. He decided to stay in the country as the city of Aleppo, he said, was more isolated from the violent uprisings broadcast on the news.
Demonstrations against the harsh dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad broke out in mid-March and rapidly spread. Beginning in mid-April, Assad launched a brutal and deadly crackdown against protestors.
“Syrians, a lot of them want change. The problem is that a lot of them are afraid, especially minorities and especially the upper class, are afraid of what this change means,” Miner said.
He says his biggest concern now is for friends and teacher that didn’t have the ability to wave their passports and leave.
“What I did see was amazing Syrians, amazing people in an amazing place who were really just trying to live, trying to deal with this whole new Arab uprising,” Miner said. u