College is a time of self-discovery when students learn what it is they love to do and then give their all to it. For many, and especially for Flinn Scholars, travel serves as the vehicle that transports them on this journey . But where the road ultimately leads varies from Scholar to Scholar. For some, such as Megan McGinnity (’03), uncovering what lights the spark within requires leaving the familiar and seeking outward; for others, like Alan Wang (’03), the road leads back home, to where one can draw upon the strength of one’s own roots.
The National Security Education Program David L. Boren Undergraduate Scholarship encourages travel to areas of the world deemed critical to national security, especially to those countries where less commonly taught languages are spoken. The NSEP process is highly competitive, and applicants must go through a two-stage national review process.
Seventeen Scholars have won the award in previous years.
This year, Megan and Alan, along with two other Flinn Scholars—Dan Tuttle (’02) and Matt Stone (’03)—were awarded the prestigious scholarship. Dan will spend a year studying in Chengdu, China, and Matt will study in Siberia, Russia.
For this Meet the Scholars feature, we decided to profile two NSEP-Boren recipients who are at the crossroads of their adventures abroad. With Alan returning from China, and Megan preparing to leave, the two Scholars have very different stories to tell.
Most people get cold feet at the mere thought of navigating a foreign country’s education system without an established program of study. But Megan McGinnity, Arizona State University political science and economics major, is not just ready for the challenge; she is embracing it.
Prior to college, Megan’s only experiences abroad included a week in Ireland and a day in Mexico; but a lot can change in two years, especially for a Flinn Scholar.
In less than one month, Megan will leave for Romania for the year. When she steps on the airplane, she will bring with her nothing more than a packed suitcase, the NSEP funding, and a letter of acceptance from Alexandru Ioan Cuza University. Megan is in touch with professors at the university but cannot arrange housing or her program of study until she lands in Iasi.
This will be a new experience for Megan, who does not usually take risks; in fact, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed twenty-year-old from Mesa generally maps everything out in advance. As a freshman, Megan wrote down a four-year plan, including all the classes she would take.
But Megan refuses to let a comfort zone hold her back. Forever the forward thinker, she realizes the importance of taking whatever life might toss her way.
“You have to go with the flow sometimes,” she says.
Megan traces her newfound assurance back to the Flinn Scholars Program’s Eastern European seminar, which was the first time she traveled abroad for more than a week. After the seminar, she left her class of Flinn Scholars to work at a Romanian orphanage.%pagebreak%
“I grew so much as a person,” she says. “That trip gave me the courage and the street-smarts about traveling.”
Hope House orphanage, too, exerted a strong influence on Megan. Her experiences, playing with and helping care for the children and visiting the countless abandoned and malnourished children state hospitals, gave her a new perspective on life.
The trip inspired Megan to spread the word about what she had experienced, and even inspired her senior honors thesis, which will examine the underground economy of the Romanian healthcare system.
“The healthcare system is supposed to be socialist, but doctors aren’t paid well, so everyone basically has to bribe them,” she says.
And as she prepares to return to Romania, she knows she will volunteer at another orphanage.
“I can’t stay away,” she says.
While in the States, Megan’s commitment to social service spurs her to volunteer with junior high students in a Model UN program and drives her toward a career in public service.
Since the age of 18, Megan has been active in the Republican Party, interning in Sen. Jon Kyl’s office, working as a precinct committeeman, chairing East Valley Young Republicans, and co-chairing her legislative district’s Bush re-election campaign. Last year she traveled to the Republican National Convention as an alternate delegate, and this past summer she interned at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
Megan aspires to a career in national security, with an emphasis on money-laundering and tax-evasion. The National Security Education Program, which requires that participants work in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, or in the intelligence community after they return home, fits well with her plans.
While most of Megan’s experiences abroad occurred in Romania, she plans to explore a new culture and country next fall when she travels to Turkey to study economics at Bogazici University. She is also in the process of applying for ASU’s Circumnavigator’s Scholarship to travel around the world and study nonprofit organizations working to stop human trafficking.
“For me, traveling the world is about personal development and having experiences that you can share with people back home,” Megan says. “When else will I be able to have these kinds of adventures again?”
In another life, Alan Wang might have moved to Taiwan to become an Asian rock-star sensation. But in this life, Alan chooses to stay a bit more grounded.
There is no doubt the talented guitarist, pianist, and violinist could succeed in his efforts to rise to Taiwan’s Top 10. But Alan knows that his roots are the keys to his success, and he wants to stay close to them.
%pagebreak%Many Scholars search far and wide for meaning, purpose, and identity, but Alan has found his all around him. His family’s experiences with the shortcomings of the healthcare system have inspired him to pursue a career in public health; their Chinese heritage has motivated him to travel to the Far East.
“I’ve never been to China, my parents have never been to China,” says Alan, whose grandparents fled to Taiwan during the Cultural Revolution. “I wanted to go. It’s my home. It’s where I’m from.”
The University of Arizona junior grew up attending Chinese school in Phoenix, where he learned to read and write traditional Chinese characters. Last year, wanting to “get some more culture,” he looked into Chinese public health programs and found one run by Northwestern University that was also listed as an NSEP-funded program.
Alan enrolled in Tsinghua University in Beijing informally known as China’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology and tested into advanced Chinese, the top language class. It was a significant accomplishment for Alan, who did not speak the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, and had not been taught to read or write the simplified characters used on the Chinese mainland.
In part due to the language barrier, Alan initially struggled to be accepted as Chinese. People thought he was Korean because of his hairstyle, and he says that he felt as if the government was constantly watching him.
But it did not take Alan long to find his place in China. He played basketball with other students at the university, and even participated in a citywide Beijing basketball tournament near the end of his trip.
Off the court Alan studied the cross between modern healthcare and traditional Chinese medicine. Along the way, the biochemistry and math major visited state-run hospitals– where remnants of the SARS epidemics lingered in deserted wings–and picked herbs along the Great Wall.
Balancing his American life with his Chinese heritage and balancing modern healthcare with traditional medicine are not the only ways Alan seeks out the middle ground in life. He also refers to public health as the middle ground between science and his other interest: law.
At UA, Alan works with state Rep. Ted Downing researching major policies, including those related to education and science. During his freshman year Alan studied the policy implications of full-day kindergarten, and the bill Downing submitted to the Legislature in the spring of 2004 to halt the mountain-lion hunt in Sabino Canyon included Alan’s research. Currently he is looking into how UA spends its budget.
Alan plans to continue policy research this semester, and he hopes to work in a neurobiology lab as well.
Public health and neurobiology are subjects close to his heart: Alan’s youngest brother was born with severe motor disabilities. He says that he can never forget “the hell” his parents go through trying to figure out what insurance will cover his brother’s medical expenses.
“So much comes out of their pockets, and my little brother, all he wants is just to get better,” he says. “I study science because I want to help kids like my brother.”
One of the joys of travel is the education it provides not only about the world around us but also about ourselves—where our hearts live, where our interests lie, and whether they are close to home or around the world. For Megan McGinnity, travel has uncovered a love for exploring the unknown; for Alan Wang, it has helped him make music—both literally and in the sense of harmonizing the different chords of his life.
A snapshot of Alan Wang on the Flinn Scholars’ Eastern Europe trip tells the story. One evening the group participated in a folk-dancing lesson in Romania. Someone there was playing a violin, and Alan asked to borrow the instrument, proceeding to play Tchaikovsky.
“Music is my second nature…no matter when or where.”