Extracurricular Activities: Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature President, Rhodes College Democrats Secretary, Society of World Affairs Today (SoWAT) Vice President, Chicago International Model United Nations (CIMUN), Mid-South Model United Nations (MSMUN), Sigma Iota Rho, Mertie Buckman Fellow
Four years ago, senior Akvile Zakarauskaite sat in on Professor Daniel Cullen’s Justice, Equality, and Liberty class as a prospective student. As the discussion centered on a controversial issue, Professor Cullen encouraged the students—including prospective students—to develop and express their thoughts, challenging them to make their arguments stronger. After this experience, Akvile recognized the value of active learning and knew she would thrive at Rhodes. Two years later, she was back in the same class as a sophomore. She credits her on-campus studies for improving her critical thinking and writing skills, but her off-campus studies have allowed her to put those skills to the test.
Born in Chicago to Lithuanian immigrants, Akvile grew up with an appreciation for different cultures and languages. Once in college, her interest in international affairs resulted in an undeniable urge to study abroad. Instead of opting for the usual semester in England or Spain, Akvile spent the spring semester of her sophomore year in Bosnia and Serbia studying the breakup of Yugoslavia through a School for International Training (SIT) Study Abroad program. After travelling through Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo, Akvile chose to return to Bosnia for her research project, which focused on multi-ethnic parties within the country. Says Akvile, “The whole process of conducting field research, particularly in a foreign country, pushed me to enjoy academia more than I ever thought I would. It was a great experience to have as an undergrad.”
After returning to Rhodes for a semester, Akvile found herself wanting to go further out of her comfort zone, and was drawn next to Rwanda for its academic significance and as a departure from her previous travels. Because of historical similarities, Bosnia and Rwanda are often used as cases in comparative conflict studies, so Akvile spent the spring of her junior year in Rwanda studying post-conflict reconciliation. Once again studying with SIT, she was able to spend a month conducting field research on political parties, this time focusing on the 10 non-dominant parties that share a fraction of the votes in Rwandan elections.
Her travels, however, did not end with study abroad. Receiving the Mertie Buckman Scholarship for a summer internship abroad, she was able to return to Bosnia this past summer to intern with the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo. The organization uses multimedia and art projects to encourage people to change their thinking about conflicts within the region. “There are still tensions in the region, many of them stemming from mistrust and intolerance,” Akvile notes. “While I spent my semesters abroad studying these issues from a political standpoint, this internship gave me a grassroots view of the problem and how it can best be combatted.”
Akvile’s studies off-campus have enriched her on-campus experiences, as well. As a member of the Rhodes Model United Nations team and the Society of World Affairs Today, she believes her travels have given her more respect for and a better understanding of other countries and why they take certain political stances. In addition, Akvile plans to use her research from her studies abroad for her international studies senior seminar. “It’ll be a culmination of everything I’ve studied, in a polished format. I’m excited to put it together in one comparative piece with the help of my professors at Rhodes.”
By Ali Swee ’16