Will Calhoun '07 shares tips on how to maximize learning opportunities while studying abroad.
After receiving a Boren Fellowship, which gives students the opportunity to pursue language study abroad, Will Calhoun ’07 spent a year, from August 2017 through May 2018, in Tajikistan, studying Farsi and Tajik. Calhoun, who majored in political science at Kenyon, is currently enrolled at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. Upon his return to the U.S., he shared some tips on how to maximize learning opportunities while studying abroad.
Let go of all expectations. We visited a 2,500 year-old Zoroastrian fort. Yamchun Fortress is perched on a hill that drops off abruptly, with the Pamir and Hindu Kush mountains rising high in the distance like a tidal wave of rock. It’s a stark beauty that’s all the more compelling because you have to experience it on its own terms. Tajikistan is a wild country with blackouts and unreliable infrastructure. I had to forget about material comfort in Tajikistan; this made it an adventure and not just a vacation.
While traveling, put the experience first. We went on two trips to the Pamirs, the forbidding but beautiful mountains on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. Only a dozen or so feet separated us from the Afghan border for most of this trip. The sand on the beach is like obsidian — nearly pitch black but sparkly, and very fine. We went to a village called Bulunkul at the highest peaks of the Pamirs, which is one of the highest elevations in the world. At that height your breath thins out and everything seems to move very slowly. This was the most remote place I’d ever visited. I’m glad I focused on the experience, not my camera.
Never underestimate how small the world is. I emailed Korbel’s diplomat-in-residence to ask him if he had any contacts in the country, and he referred me to John Cooney ’91. When we met he asked me where I went to school. I told him I went to Kenyon. He paused, smiled incredulously, and said, “You’re kidding.” It was wonderful to meet a Kenyon grad in such a far-flung place. That’s what I love about Kenyon. It encourages people to be curious about the world, and the school’s small size encourages people to interact and get along. It makes sense that many Kenyon grads go on to work in diplomacy.