Political science class opens doors to Middle East

Senior Andrew Szarejko may be of Polish descent and from a small town near Tampa, but his heart is now in Turkey.

After taking a class on U.S. relations with the Middle East at UM, Szarejko fell in love with Turkey.

On Thursday, Szarejko was among the 631 students to be awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and administered by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and American Councils for International Education. The scholarship, established in 2006, allows students to attend intensive language study courses in certain foreign countries. It is among the most competitive scholarships in the country.

Szarejko, who participated in a study abroad program in Turkey during the 2011 spring semester, will be using his award to travel to Turkey once again. He hopes to improve his Turkish and become fluent in the language. Szarejko is double majoring in political science and international studies, with minors in history and religious studies. He takes classes to learn Turkish at the university, and is fascinated by the country.

“It is a very rich country in terms of history and its current politics,” Szarejko said.

With his award, Szarejko will be living with a host family in Izmir, a large metropolis in western Turkey. The program also allows for cultural excursions and trips to different parts of Turkey.

Joseph Parent, a political science professor, met Szarejko when he enrolled in Parent’s American foreign policy class.

“Andrew is a perfect fit for it, and he is a great example of how Miami helps springboard students into really cool positions,” Parent said.

Before going abroad, Szarejko continues to practice his Turkish through the Directed Independent Language Study (DILS) program at UM. Through this program, students can study languages that are not taught in the modern languages department of the College of Arts and Sciences. The DILS program assigns a native speaker to a maximum group of five students, and provides them with the appropriate materials to learn the language. An outside examiner later tests them.

Kefryn Reese, director of prestigious awards and fellowships in the Office of Academic Enhancement, helped Szarejko put together his application for the scholarship.

“One of the reasons that Andrew was a strong applicant for this award is because he has made a sustained commitment to learn the language,” Reese said.

Szarejko, who was born and raised in Palm Harbor, Fla., came to UM as a Foote Fellow. Foote Fellows are exempt from general education requirements. This allowed him to begin taking classes directly associated with his majors and minors as a freshman.

Despite his heavy course load, Szarejko makes room for other activities in his schedule. He has served as vice president of Council for Democracy, a nonpartisan political organization on campus, for the past two years, and is a member of UM’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, a national political science honor society. Szarejko is also creating a Middle Eastern Studies Society to help educate interested students about the region.

After graduation, Szarejko hopes to use his knowledge of the Middle East in order to work for the United States’ government.