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Globetrotting Senior Travels the World Through a Series of Scholarships

Wyatt Gordon, SIS/BA '12, has traveled to Indonesia twice during his time at AU thanks to various language scholarships, including the Boren. Courtesy of Wyatt Gordon.

If you’ve seen the Boren Scholarship brochure, you’ve seen Wyatt Gordon, SIS/BA '12, pictured on the cover. As a recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Boren, Critical Language, and International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS), Gordon has spent just five semesters on AU’s campus and the rest of his undergraduate years around the world.

“To speak a different language, to be able to see the world differently—I think it really enriches life,” says Gordon, who is fluent in German and Indonesian; proficient in Spanish; and can speak basic French.

Gordon’s international interest began as a high school student in Richmond, Va., where he was inspired to spend a year after graduation in Germany to better understand his familial roots. His father, who passed away when he was a child, was German, and Gordon’s cultural exchange was a way to connect with his heritage.

“It was a way to explore my past but also discover my future,” Gordon says. “I wanted to really see what my heritage was like, to figure out where I was coming from, to figure out where I really wanted to go. … After that, I really started thinking more internationally.”

Upon returning to the United States and beginning his undergraduate education at AU, Gordon’s next adventure was inspired in part by his SIS Cross-Cultural Communications class. While studying Indonesia, Gordon became enthralled with learning more about the country.

 “The more I read about it, the less I seemed to understand … I could not fit it with any of the frameworks the U.S. or Germany had given me to understand the world,” he says.

 Determined to master Indonesian, Gordon began attending free language courses at the Indonesian Embassy and teaching himself the language through books and podcasts. His extra efforts were rewarded with a Critical Language Scholarship to study in Malang, East Java, for two months in summer 2010, where he achieved upper-level intermediate proficiency in the language.

“I just fell in love,” Gordon says. “It’s a beautiful and completely crazy country at the same time. … [Java has] 140 million people, so you can’t go anywhere without anyone.”

Gordon’s Critical Language Scholarship experience propelled him to apply for a Boren Scholarship to return to Indonesia. After six months of preparation, essay writing, collaboration with professor mentors, and help from the Office of Merit Awards, Gordon sent in his application—and received the award, which allowed him to spend his junior year abroad.

“It was just really, really valuable, because I experienced so much more and I talked to so many people, that I now really understand the region; I really understand Indonesia,” Gordon says.  

Upon returning for his final semester at AU, Gordon decided on a trip that would take him full-circle—an International Parliamentary Scholarship (IPS) would take him back to Germany.  

IPS recipients spend three months working in the Bundestag, the country’s legislative body, and two months studying at Humboldt University of Berlin. Going back to his interest in Germany, Gordon says, just felt right. After turning in his application in late July, Gordon decided to pursue an independent study to learn more about the Bundestag and the country’s social and economic issues. Overseen by associate professor Olga Rojer in AU’s World Languages and Cultures department, Gordon drafted a memo each week of discussions happening in the Bundestag and what those conversations meant for the future of the country—a topic that came up during Gordon’s IPS interview. His knowledge of those politics, Gordon believes, is the main reason he won the scholarship.

“He is a wonderful student. He is truly passionate about language,” says Rojer, who taught Gordon in her Studies in German Film class this fall. “Economics, politics, social issues … German identity, German cultural issues … he just soaks it up.”

Gordon’s strong relationship with Rojer and other faculty members, including those in the ASEAN Studies Center, have certainly contributed to his scholarship success, says Joan D. Echols, Associate Director of the Office of Merit Awards. By being proactive about these opportunities and forming meaningful bonds with his instructors, Gordon set himself apart—and other students can, too, Echols adds.

“When you have success at one scholarship, it gives you a sense of, ‘Oh, I can apply for this, I can apply for something else,’” Echols says of how students can become active participants in the application process. “Wyatt is unusual because he’s really tuned into the scholarship world, and he has developed faculty mentors who share his intellectual interests. Go after class, go to office hours—students need to develop and cultivate faculty mentors because you can’t do any of this without them.”

After graduating in December, Gordon will have a few months off before reporting to Germany in March. For now, he can take a breather from scholarship applications, essays, and interviews, but he is already thinking about what he’ll do when he returns to the United States. He has applied to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Junior Fellows program, and is considering pursuing positions at various think tanks across the country.

In the long run, however, Gordon knows that Indonesia is calling.

“Indonesia is such an important place … by 2030, it will be the seventh-largest economy in the world, and it’s the biggest player in southeast Asia, a huge player in Asia,” Gordon says. “I just feel like Indonesia is so underappreciated, that’s where I need to be.”