Andrea Howard is an alumna of the 2015 CLS Azerbaijani program in Baku, Azerbaijan. She is from Norcross, Georgia, and is currently completing a Master of Arts in Science and Security as a Marshall Scholar at King’s College London. After she finishes her graduate studies, she will serve the United States Navy as a submariner. When she’s not studying or training, she enjoys singing, running, playing the guitar, and playing basketball.
Azerbaijan is a small country, but as the nexus between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, it has huge geopolitical influence. When I transition from my graduate studies into my military naval service, my familiarity with the region and the local language will set me up for unique opportunities to engage with the Caucus as a representative of the U.S. military: as a submariner, I will complete missions to the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and Arabian Gulf and use my first-hand experience with the Caucasus to gain insight into the region; when I surface for shore duty, I will supplement these experiences with my Turkish language proficiency to seek military advisory billets in the executive branch. Ultimately, I aspire to transfer laterally into the Navy's Foreign Area Officer program. In this young community, the Navy requires linguistic proficiency to both strengthen relations with foreign coalitions and win "hearts and minds" on a grassroots level.
The CLS effect
The CLS Program allowed me to visit and begin to understand a region of the world I likely would not have explored independently. In Azerbaijan, I established lasting personal connections; the Azerbaijani people were my favorite part about living in my host country. They take immense pride in their country, and it was a pleasure to explore the history of the Caucasus in the local language. My language proficiency would not have risen nearly so dramatically without the help of the friendly teachers and residents of Baku. With their help, I gained confidence in my ability to quickly learn a new language.
If you had one day in Azerbaijan…
Check out Gobustan, a territory containing petroglyphs dating back to 10,000 BC.
In a word…
My favorite phrase is “Bu super əladır!” – “This is super perfect!”
On the universality of stories
While on our way to Lankaran, the car jerked towards the side of the road, wheels skidding into the dusty shoulder. Elshad – the man in the front seat – leaped out of the car, heading to the train station with tears in his eyes. "Elshad haraya gedir?" The other students asked. "Where is Elshad going?" The query was met with solemn news: "The woman he loved just died. He's going home."
There is a universality in travel that transcends day-to-day cultural differences, a specialness in finding personal patterns that mirror our own. Elshad's sudden loss immediately reminded me of the death of my friend, midshipman Justin Zemser; another student in the van recounted the rapid decline of her father's health. In “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien claims that stories are for joining the past to the future. In that car, I thought of other stories that I had heard that week that made me glimpse my past and future: one of our peer language tutors confided in me her closeted homosexuality and her fears of societal rejection when I asked her about the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision. And at a reception at the U.S. Embassy, I met Valerie, an Army Major with kids back home in Seattle. She hesitated after mentioning them and, after a look around, added quietly, "My wife takes care of them. I miss them all terribly."
These stories are the beauty of travel. They force the mind to identify parallels between one country and another, often taken for granted at home. My peer tutor, the young lesbian struggling to come out; Valerie, the military officer stationed abroad, weighing at every introduction the risk of saying, "my wife;" and Elshad, the man whose life will never be the same because of a sudden life lost. Plato wrote in Thaeatetus, “We have intercourse with Becoming by means of the body through sense, whereas we have intercourse with Real Being by means of the soul through reflection.” Because I am in Azerbaijan and physically took part in the events, I experienced these stories through Plato's lens of Becoming. But I know their Real Being—the universal, recurrent values of justice, love, and grief—because these stories were, are, and also forever will be mine as well.
Words of wisdom
Speak the language as much as possible because bashfulness will severely hinder your progress. When you show interest in a critical language as an American, your hosts will respond positively and become extremely willing to help you.