Wes Kovarik (MAIS/JD 2014), is one of 23 graduate-student recipients of the Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship. He will spend the summer working in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA).
Kovarik is a graduate student at the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the UW School of Law. The Rosenthal Fellowship provides graduate students from Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) member schools the opportunity to work on international relations-related issues with members of the U.S. government.
It will not be Kovarik’s first visit to the Capitol. In high school, Kovarik was a page in the House of Representatives, an experience that kick-started his long-lasting interest in politics. The program brings teenagers from across the country to spend several weeks in the summer working on the House floor.
“The Page Program was the single event that made me really want to move to D.C. and start my career there,” explained Kovarik. “Disagree or agree, everyone seemed to be fired up about what they believed in.”
Kovarik described many of the tasks as “menial, but we got to interact with many different people. Representatives would chat with you… we would watch the House vote.”
Another important event that occurred during this program was the death of President Reagan. The pages were mostly kept out of the way during all of the state functions, but they were allowed one privilege: “It was arranged for us to get in the line of people to walk past (Reagan’s casket) and pay your respects,” he said. “I’ve never been to anything like that before.… The line for the general public to pay their respects was hours and hours long, just to be able to walk past the casket.”
Kovarik is looking forward to the experience of working in the Capitol on a day-to-day basis. He was encouraged by McDermott to get involved as much as possible with the issues that are of interest to him.
Kovarik’s political interests are in international security, which he was able to study intensively through the Jackson School. “I started JSIS last year and I was able to take a lot of the international security programs… U.S. Foreign Policy and International Law and Arms Control,” he said.
Kovarik is also interested in how international policy plays out in real life. For one of his independent studies, Kovarik studied the former Yugoslavia (now Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia) and the effects of its disbandment.
“Militarily, I wanted to see how that played out,” he explained, in terms of the drawing of borders and how the language that the three ethnic groups shared would evolve.
Through the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, Kovarik traveled to Serbia for six weeks, studying and practicing the Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian language.
“It’s a shared language,” he explained. “The politicians and nationalists refer to (the language) specifically as ‘theirs’, but on the streets…people can easily understand each other. There is a different accent and (people) use some different words… but from my perspective, the biggest differences are regional, if you’re from the coast, or inland.”
Kovarik hopes to travel to Serbia again to continue his language studies. He received another FLAS award and, if he can make it work timing-wise with his fellowship, he plans to go to Serbia for six weeks in August and September.
With his experience from both FLAS and the Rosenthal Fellowship, Kovarik wants to work for the State Department one day, provided he enjoys his experience with the Rosenthal Fellowship. “This summer, I’ll find out if I actually like the day-to-day, nitty-gritty politics,” he explained with a laugh.
He credits the Jackson School in particular with helping him through this process. “It’s the whole reason I have the fellowship, through them and APSIA,” he said. The types of courses he was able to take, which included U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights and Politics, helped to strengthen his knowledge and passion for the study and application of international policy.
“The fellowship is a great way to get your foot in the door,” said Kovarik, “without having the connections and experience usually needed.”
– By Melissa Croce