Stay Fresh: Advice on Applying for the Boren Awards from UH’s Current Boren Scholar, Victor Yau

This just in from Korea!  Boren Scholar Victor Yau writes to us with helpful tips about making a Boren Award application, and he should know!  This guy convinced the Boren reviewers that competitive break-dancing is a form of conflict resolution that could be of immediate value in the future, if North Korea melts down and thousands of disaffected youth pour into South Korea.

Don’t forget the Boren Awards informational meeting this coming Friday (11/4) at the Language Acquisition Center (217 Agnes Arnold Hall).  Our team will be there to get you started on this outstanding opportunity! —Richard Armstrong

So you want to apply for the Boren.

This one is different from the Critical Language Scholarship in that you are not simply being spoon-fed free plane tickets, housing, food, language classes, and friends for an entire fun (and exhausting) summer. Instead, the Boren requires you to be an adult and make your own sacrifices.

You must:

  1. Commit an entire semester or school year to studying abroad.
  2. Research, budget, and plan your own study abroad program.
  3. Shop for your own plane tickets.
  4. Arrive at the host country airport alone and immediately start navigating in a foreign language and environment on your own.
  5. Search for your own housing.
  6. Meet and make friends on your own.
  7. And of course, commit to working for the Federal Government for a year.

14099433_173253523100614_1961814290_nGiven the amount of commitment that this award requires, it is only logical that the Boren reviewers must aggressively distinguish between those who have true purpose and passion for spending a semester or year abroad for the sake of U.S. national security, and those who are simply applying to apply. Right off the bat, Essay One asks you to “Explain the significance of your proposed country, region, and language to U.S. national security.” When answering this question, students can easily fall into the traps of stating well-known facts that are obvious to the reviewers or of being too generic.

The Boren reviewers know their world history, so it is definitely not a good idea to recite textbook facts here. Instead, try presenting facts and history with your own creative twist. Something fresh and novel.


Here’s an example from my own application:

Generic and Obvious:

“In recent years, North Korea has presented a serious threat to U.S. national security in its aggressive nuclear development and threats of war against the U.S. and American allies.”


“North Korea’s recent nuclear development, threats of war, and widespread citizen unrest present a situation similar to that of the 20th Century Cold War.”

Instead of simply telling the well-known fact that North Korea is a national security threat, as the 864 other applicants could have done, I tried to show it in an innovative way. Not everyone is able to immediately make the connection between the current situation in  North Korea and that of the 1991 Soviet Union. I was able to build upon this “fresh” idea with other ideas to construct an overall “fresh” and non-generic essay.


The point of Boren’s application essays is to find and hand pick the select few who are able to come up with innovative solutions to the security problems of today’s world. By being creative with your writing and presentation of ideas, you can can craft a narrative that reflects your own personal experiences, interests, and goals. Whether you’re able to jump over the concrete wall of Boren applicants and make it safely to the other side or not, you’ll learn a lot about yourself by taking a go at those essays.

Just remember to be yourself and stay fresh.

—Victor Yau

Boren Scholar 2016


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