David Williams transferred to Georgia College his sophomore year—looking for a smaller, more personal school where opportunity abounded.
He switched majors from audio engineering technology—music production—to economics; made friends by joining the cast of several theatre productions; and developed an intense desire to travel. He wants to be a leader worldwide, helping underdeveloped populations thrive economically.
That led Williams to apply for the Boren Scholarship, a nationally-competitive award given to highly-motivated undergraduates willing to learn less-studied languages, immerse themselves in a different culture and, ultimately, work in federal national security.
“I pursued the Boren originally, purely, because I have wanderlust. It’s just this burning desire I’ve had ever since I can remember,” said William, a junior from Augusta.
“I really think I would be happiest in a career, if I was moving throughout the world and experiencing lots of different places and cultures,” he said. “I love the idea of communicating with somebody in their language, of going to them and being rooted there. All that appeals to me.”
Williams is the second Georgia College student to win this prestigious honor. Senior Johnathan Mangrum spent the past year using his Boren Scholarship to learn Urdu in Lucknow, India.
Since 1994, more than 6,000 students have received Boren awards. This year, through the Institute of International Education, the National Security Education Program awarded 244 Boren Scholarships out of a pool of 851 undergraduate applications. Participants will live in 39 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Williams’ $26,000 award covers tuition, insurance, cost of living, transportation and his flight. He’ll first study Swahili in the African Flagship Language Institute at the University of Florida in Gainesville this summer. In September, he’ll continue language study at the American Councils for International Education in Tanzania, followed by a business internship there in the spring.
Williams has a list of Georgia College faculty and staff he is thankful for—with Anna Whiteside, coordinator of the National Scholarships Office, at the top. It was the second time Williams applied for the Boren. Whiteside reread his application “about 40 times and always found something to make it a little bit better,” he said.
"I'm very excited that David has been selected for the Boren Scholarship this year,” Whiteside said. “Last year, he was named an alternate, and it was thanks to his perseverance and hard work that he has now received the award.”
“The Boren is a highly-prestigious award,” she said, “and a win for Georgia College. It means our students will be continuing do great work across the globe."
Williams also credits his economics professors Dr. Zhenhui Xu and Dr. Justin Roush for helping him focus his argument that Swahili is a critically-needed language and Tanzania a region of vital interest to the United States.
“They pushed me to truly understand the workings of an economic system,” he said, “and why it’s so important for a hegemonic country like the United States to have a relationship with developing nations.”
Williams will pause his Georgia College studies while in Tanzania. But his time there will earn him a minor in international studies. He’ll be a senior in fall 2020 and graduate in spring 2021.
Within three years after graduation, Boren recipients agree to work a minimum of one year in the federal government. Williams is looking forward to this requirement; his dream is to work in the foreign service as an economic diplomat. That job is much like the Boren Scholarship. Workers are sent on two-year assignments to various countries, after first learning a new language.
In Tanzania, Williams will be given a private tutor to learn Swahili—which he said is the “language of business in Southeast Africa.” It’s reportedly an easy language to pick up. The alphabet is the same as English. The letters make only one sound, and the syntax structure is similar to Spanish, which Williams studied in high school.
Participants agree to only speak in their new language, no English, and they live culturally immersed with a host family. In the fall, Williams will take other courses and be challenged to learn in Swahili. He said he’ll recognize his success when he starts thinking in Swahili, as well.
“I hope to take away a deep understanding of the language, because I would love to someday go back with the foreign service,” Williams said. “Milledgeville is its own little world, and you have pretty much everything you need in this town. But there’s a lot to this world I would like to experience. I truly want to understand the language of Swahili and feel connected to the world beyond.”
William wants to use the economic knowledge he acquired at Georgia College. Topics raised in classes were “hugely beneficial,” helping him understand current events in Tanzania. Xu, for example, recently talked about a phenomenon in Africa, where its countries all export similar products. But demand for these products is not changing. That “blew my mind,” Williams said. He wants to see firsthand how this effects people’s lives. He thinks product diversification would increase the standard of living and economic growth in Tanzania.
Other aspects unique to the region are the presence of the Chinese in trade negotiations and terrorists in neighboring Kenya.
The Boren includes cultural excursions to businesses in Tanzania, and Williams hopes to get an internship with a micro-financing company there next spring. He’d also like to go on a safari at Kilimanjaro.
“I believe this is a way to understand yourself,” he said. “When I’m taken out of my comfort zone, out of what I’ve known my entire life, it will test my mettle.”