Boren Scholar with a talent for study abroad makes plans for China

Megan Garland, 2015 Boren Scholar

When she was in kindergarten, Megan Garland did the usual things 5-year-olds do — she counted, she colored, she learned Chinese.

She didn’t know it then, but China would soon fill her horizon, and no mere ocean would keep them apart. Now the UO’s newest Boren Scholar, Garland is about to graduate with degrees in Chinese and international studies before crossing the Pacific to spend a year in the country that has captivated her for so long.

“It’s just a really interesting place. It’s so different,” the UO senior said recently of her China fascination. “But the people are really, really nice, and its culture is just this interesting mix of modernism and traditional Chinese.”

The Boren Awards for International Study are among the most coveted scholarships for students who wish to study abroad. An initiative of the National Security Education Program, they can run from a summer to a semester to a full year.

Garland received a full-year, $20,000 scholarship to study at Nanjing University in the eastern city of the same name. She will spend half the year taking classes, some with other American students and others with Chinese students, and then do an internship for the remainder of the year.

But it won’t be Garland’s first trip to China. Or her second or third, for that matter.

She’s already had three study-abroad trips to China and made other visits on vacation. And it all traces back to kindergarten, when Garland was in the first-ever class of a Mandarin immersion program in Portland Public Schools.

The program places students in Chinese-speaking classes half the day and English classes the other half, starting in kindergarten. Garland was among the first 40 students enrolled.

The UO later partnered with Portland schools to establish the nation’s first K-16 Chinese Flagship language program, making it all but inevitable that Garland would ultimately enroll here. The program worked so well that when Garland arrived as a freshman, she tested into the Chinese language program at the 400 course level, effectively allowing her to skip most of the lower-division curriculum.

She added international studies as a major and is planning a career in foreign relations, hopefully with the United Nations, focusing on international development or environmental aid. But before that, she’s got her eye on a tour in the Peace Corps, followed by graduate school.

The Boren award comes with a requirement that recipients spend at least one year working in government service. She thinks the Peace Corps would fulfill that requirement, but that’s not why she wants to do it.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. Forever,” she said. “It’s made for me.”

At 21, Garland already is a global citizen. In addition to three study-abroad trips to China — one in high school and two at the UO — she also took part in Semester at Sea, spending several months on an ocean-going ship taking classes and visiting other countries. Ports of call included Mexico, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, Ghana, Morocco and Spain.

On top of that, her mother is from Singapore, her grandparents live in Thailand — she spends every summer with them — and her sister is married to a Finnish man who works in Japan, so she’s done a lot of traveling. She had visited 20 countries by the time she was 20.

“I guess it’s given me a lot of hope and a lot of motivation to keep working toward exactly what I’m doing now,” she said of her vagabond youth.

Even more amazing is that she paid for all that study abroad through scholarships and grants, the only way she could have afforded so much travel. She said her parents are constantly amazed at her Midas touch when it comes to studying abroad.

Garland packed a lot into her four years at the UO. Besides study abroad she’s been active in environmental issues, spending her 2014 spring break helping organize community gardens in east Los Angeles and this year working to oppose a natural gas pipeline in Oregon. She credits good time management and a desire to make the most of college life for her accomplishments.

She’s also taught English to children in remote villages in Thailand during her summer vacations. That’s one of the things she’ll be doing again when she visits her grandparents this summer before heading for Nanjing.

“College is the only four years when you can do all this,” she said. “I just want to take advantage of it while it’s all here.”

By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications