Erin Ryan discovered her life’s passion in a sixth-grade social studies class. The 12-year-old from Craftsbury, Vermont, knew she wanted to help build peace in the world after several community members came to speak about their experiences in the Peace Corps.
“After hearing their accounts of all the good they had done and the difference they had made, I knew what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up,’” Ryan recounts. “I brought this aspiration with me to Wheaton, where I continued my interest in international relations and discovered my love for the Russian language.”
The 22-year-old Wheaton senior will take another step toward fulfilling her passion in the coming year. With the support of a Fulbright grant, Ryan will travel to Russia to teach English and pursue her quest for fluency in Russian. After that, she hopes to join the Peace Corps herself.
Ryan says she got “hooked” on the Russian language in Professor Francoise Rosset’s “Beginning Russian” class. She loved the sounds of Russian, she says, as well as the fact that “the language has developed with the cultural and political history of the country. For example, the [word for the] number 40, сорок, … originated from the name of a peasant’s tunic that was used as a sack during harvest and carried about a 40-weight” of crops.
“Nuances like this require an understanding of not only the language, but the history of the nation,” she adds. “So, I started taking courses in Russian literature, history and foreign policy. From this education, I developed an enduring curiosity for the enigma that is Russia.”
Ryan thus decided to complete a Russian studies major in addition to the major in international relations she had planned. In her sophomore year, she received the Audrey Schneiderman Scholarship, and for the past two years she has been awarded the Ariadne Schilaeff Scholarship of the Kohn & Arronson Foundations. Both named scholarships are awarded to students who are studying Russian.
In the fall of her junior year, she studied in Ireland at University College Cork, where she “enrolled in every course they offered on the European Union and European-Irish politics” in order to get an “insider’s perspective.” Then she spent the spring semester studying in Vladimir, Russia.
“I was there for four months, and I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the language,” later Ryan wrote in her essay.
In Vladimir, Ryan also tutored a group of high school students who were learning English and had never had the opportunity to converse with a native speaker.
“I have never been so impressed by a group of students’ will to learn,” Ryan wrote in her Fulbright essay. “This experience made me want to go back and help more Russian students with their [conversational] English.” During her Fulbright year she will serve as an English-language teaching assistant at the university level.
At Wheaton, Ryan is a peer tutor in Russian, the “prime minister” of the Russian Club, and a member of both the co-ed and the newly formed women’s Ultimate Frisbee team.
Her honor’s thesis centers on grassroots peace and conflict-resolution activities in South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). After her Fulbright year, Ryan hopes to land a Peace Corps teaching assignment within the former Soviet Republics and then pursue a master’s degree in peace and conflict resolution. Ultimately, she hopes to work in the non-profit sector to advance peacemaking in that part of the world.