Social Science Scholar: National Parks in Kyrgyzstan and the U.S.

My Social Science Scholars project this past summer consisted of multiple parts. The majority of my time was spent in Kyrgyzstan, a nation in Central Asia, where I was studying Russian on the Critical Language Scholarship. Together with other Americans, I had classes throughout the week at the American University of Central Asia. We also had a variety of different excursions, which ranged from hiking in their national parks to visiting art museums. One unique aspect of my experience was the reliance on the native language, as we had to refrain from using English.  While there, I lived with a host family and built a close bond with them, and I immersed myself in Kyrgyz culture using my newly enhanced language skills. One distinct memory is traveling through the rural countryside and participating in the national sport, Kok-Buru, which is a mixture of polo and rugby played on horseback. Lifestyle there has traditionally been nomadic, so it was fascinating to be in a completely unique culture.

The other major part of my summer was engaging in research on protected area both in the United States and abroad. Thanks to the SSS program, I was able to visit twelve different national parks in May. The majority of these were out in the Western United States, but I also revisited two out of South Florida’s three national parks. While there, I observed the way that protected area operated and the differences and similarities with the parks I visited in Kyrgyzstan. I also learned a lot from park rangers, other visitors, and local workers through informal conversations. While no particular experience stands out, I will never forget the interactions I had with foreign and domestic visitors alike as we all experienced the national parks, also known as “America’s best idea.” I further worked on the statistical aspect of my honors thesis, which measures some of the different factors that lead to nations having more or less protected area. I will be defending it at the end of the Fall 2018 semester.

I am incredibly grateful to the Social Science Scholars program for both the generous funding and the leadership training, which will benefit me throughout my life. My project was immensely valuable to my personal, educational, and professional experience. I am now well-versed in how I can combine my prior experience in public diplomacy and languages with environmental conservation, something I am extremely passionate about. My honors in the major thesis, which was strongly enriched by the Social Science Scholars program, serves for me as environmental studies experience, as I have not had the opportunity to work in the field otherwise. I have recommended the program to all of my younger friends in the College of Social Sciences and would advise everybody to apply!

  Matthew Hebron is majoring in political science and Russian.

The featured image is from Wikimedia commons.

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