“…there are resources exploring economic development in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, but it can be easy to think that Europe “doesn’t need it” — when there are communities and organizations in almost every country that are doing economic development in some capacity.”
University of Washington West Europe FLAS alumna Nina Boe recently impressed the U.S. Peace Corps with her Macedonian language skills when she appeared in an interview on the Macedonian Radio-Television Morning Show. (Watch the interview here). Having recently arrived in North Macedonia, she joined the North Macedonian Peace Corps Training Manager to discuss her experience and the arrival of the 23rd group of Peace Corps volunteers in North Macedonia. Nina valued the opportunity to practice speaking Macedonian on live television, and is also particularly excited to be learning Romani during her time in Skopje. Polyglot Boe was awarded a FLAS Fellowship in 2017-18 to study Portuguese, and also speaks Spanish and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. She graduated from the UW Evans School in 2018 with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Eastern European Languages from the University of Washington. Below we catch up with Nina about her experience in the Peace Corps, and she offers some advice to students interested in pursuing careers in international public service.
What is your current position?
I am currently a Community Economic Development Volunteer with Peace Corps North Macedonia.
What do you like about your current position?
I like having variety — I work with an NGO, a kindergarten and a primary school. From helping with English to working with my counterparts and supervisors on organizational-level issues, I appreciate the chance to do a little bit of everything. Whether we’re working with kids to advance their skills or exploring options for fundraising strategies, I like having multiple options.
View from one of the schools Boe works at in the municipality of Shutka in Skopje.
Where do you live? What do you like about it?
I live in Skopje, North Macedonia’s capitol, in the municipality of Shuto Orizari, aka Shutka. Skopje is exciting as it means I interact with people of different backgrounds, from across North Macedonia, the Balkans, and beyond. I love being in Shutka specifically as it allows me an amazing opportunity to immerse myself in the world’s only Roma-majority municipality, where Romani is an official language. I am also learning Romani, which is particularly exciting!
How did you decide on your career path? How did you become interested in Europe and economic development?
I’ve long considered international public service. Some of my first major travel experiences were in Europe, and my undergraduate studies focused on Eastern Europe and the Balkans. As I learned about economic development, I sought out organizations and anecdotes of what that looked like in the region that first piqued my interests. In some ways, it was the lack of experience that challenged me — there are resources exploring economic development in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, but it can be easy to think that Europe “doesn’t need it” — when there are communities and organizations in almost every country that are doing economic development in some capacity. I’m eager to explore what that means and what impact it has for communities that need it.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
For starters, I aim to genuinely use some of the professional skills I’ve honed in my master’s program and explore their application in international settings. I hope to continue working abroad in international development and nonprofit work, help make impacts in communities, and keep learning new things!
Nina Boe with her Peace Corps cohort at their swearing-in ceremony.
Do you have advice for current students interested in working in your field?
My advice is a combination of mental and practical. Mentally, I’d challenge people to avoid thinking things aren’t possible. My mother was a big support, encouraging me to go for an opportunity even if I didn’t think it was likely — even as an excited 17-year-old at an event, thinking, “Gee, it would be cool to talk to that ambassador…”, my mom yanked me down the hall and called out, “Excuse me, mister Ambassador…” — and told me to come up with some questions. Practically, I’d say never underestimate the power of networking and take (and make!) all opportunities for it. Do be genuine in your connections, because no one likes being treated like a mere stepping stone for a bigger and better connection, but I’d find out what people were passionate about and try to connect them with someone I thought would be helpful for said passions.
How did receipt of the FLAS impact you? How did the studies you undertook on the FLAS impact you?
While the money to help pay for school was helpful, FLAS was kind of a breath of fresh air. I was so focused on my program and thinking I had to do things a certain way. Inserting language and area study into my master’s experience was a reminder that even if international studies wasn’t my focus, I could make it applicable and find ways that my courses intersected with international interests. Of course, there’s always that one area studies class that sparks other interests and makes you consider a PhD after all (thanks, Professor Murg!), but in short, FLAS allowed me to continue with language study and explore new ways of thinking – about my own studies and other areas.
Do you have a favorite story from your experiences abroad?
It’s hard to pin down singular experiences, but kind of as a culmination of the above points — networking, building relationships, connections made through language study and regional interests — I arrived in North Macedonia having never visited here before…and had connections already. One member of the Peace Corps staff is the family friend of a Macedonian family I know in Seattle. Additionally, a friend at UW currently pursuing joint Evans/Jackson master’s studies knew someone here in Skopje who works in international development. Perhaps the surprise is how small the world can seem at times!
FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education. FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies. Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply. Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.