Jaynie Whinnery is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at Oregon State University. During 2013, she spent nine months in Siem Reap, Cambodia as a Boren Fellow researching biosand water filter sustainability. She also holds degrees from OSU in Environmental Engineering (M.S.) and Mechanical Engineering (B.S.).
The Boren Fellowship provided me with funding to pursue a student-designed program combining research, internship, and intensive language study of a less commonly taught language while abroad. Boren Fellows must also tie their study abroad plans to U.S. national security and agree to work for the U.S. Government for at least one year following graduation. I have always regretted that I did not take the chance to study abroad during my undergraduate years, and with my research interests focused on global water and sanitation issues, gaining more extensive international experience was the next obvious step. During my time as a Boren Fellow, I chose to live and work in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from January through September of 2013. Siem Reap is a really fun place to live in because, due to the presence of the Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has a stimulating mix of local culture and world-class, tourism-driven amenities.
During my Boren Fellowship I volunteered with two organizations that work to increase access to safe water – Water for Cambodia and The Trailblazer Foundation. Rural areas in Cambodia have particularly high rates of poverty; families are often lacking sufficient nutrition, running water, adequate sanitation, electricity, educational and employment opportunities, and health care facilities. According to the United Nations, approximately 38 percent of Cambodia’s rural population does not have access to an improved water source. Both of the organizations I volunteered with are implementing household-scale biosand water filters as one of their primary programs. These water filters are a simple, easy-to-use technology that is proven to be effective at removing disease-causing organisms and other common contaminants in water. My research focuses on the sustainability of these water filter programs by evaluating what factors contribute to continued long-term use.
One of the most amazing aspects of the Boren Fellowship is that it requires, and provides funding for, intensive language study. I began studying the Cambodian language, Khmer, in 2012 through the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon, but nothing can compare to the daily immersion I experienced in Cambodia. Khmer is a pretty challenging language to learn as a native English speaker because there are so many differences in pronunciation. The alphabet has 33 consonants, 23 regular vowels, 11 independent vowels, and several punctuation-based modifiers. During my Boren Fellowship I had formal language lessons four to five times per week, through classes and with private tutors. After a few months, once I was able to hold a conversation, my understanding of the local language helped me form friendships and working relationships that would not have been possible otherwise. Not to mention all of the laughter, as I became a source of never-ending amusement for rural Cambodians who had never heard a foreigner speak their language before. I think they have the best sense of humor in the world. Trying my best to have everyday conversations in Khmer with Cambodians was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience.
Now that my Boren Fellowship is over, I am back on campus and on track to complete my Master of Public Policy degree by the end of the academic year. I am currently writing my final public policy essay on the sustainability of biosand water filter programs based on my data and observations from my time in Cambodia. My experience as a Boren Fellow further solidified my desire to pursue a career in public service. For that reason, the service requirement for the fellowship is a bonus because it provides additional resources for the job search. I am also hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in public policy or international development, in which case I can defer my service requirement until I finish that degree. Overall the Boren Fellowship was an ideal opportunity to have a unique study abroad experience as a graduate student because I was able to design a personalized program based on my own learning objectives and research interests. I highly recommend applying if your interests align well with the Boren program’s preferences. The initiative offers scholarships for undergraduate students and fellowships for graduate students.