Yanni Liang, a PhD candidate in occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, earned a 2019 David L. Boren Fellowship, and will spend next year studying Khmer in Cambodia.
The Boren Fellowships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. graduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The countries of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are excluded.
Hometown: Rongxian, Guangxi, China
Degree: MA healthcare informatics, PhD candidate occupational and environmental health
What drew you to your language studies?
I am interested in people and cultures. Learning a new language is a great way to get to know people and cultures from different backgrounds. I am also interested in working with Cambodian rice farmers in promoting their safety and health. Khmer is Cambodia’s official language. Learning Khmer will help me develop partnerships with Cambodian rice farmers and community members. It will reduce my linguistic barrier in understanding Cambodian rice farmers’ experiences and cultural practices in safety and health.
Were there experiences at the UI that inspired your decision to pursue a Boren?
My training at the UI in public health and studies focus on agricultural safety and health cultivated my interests to promote farmers’ health. My summer project working with Midwest immigrant and refugee farmers further stimulated my interest to promote the health and wellbeing of subsistent farmers regionally and globally. The opportunity offered by Boren to expand my linguistic and cultural competence will complement my UI training and align with my career plan.
How do you foresee this influencing your future career?
A Boren experience will train me to build partnerships across cultures and develop my global health research skills. Acquiring these skills will expand my career options in working with subsistence farmers globally in protecting their safety and health.
What excites you most about spending a year in your host country?
I look forward to meeting the students at the Cambodian School Project whom I will learn Khmer from. I am excited to get to know rice farmers and community members from rice villages in Siem Reap. Rice feeds more than half of the world’s population and most is produced by women. Cambodia is an emerging rice exporter and women play an important role in ensuring regional and global food stability. However, rice farming in Cambodia is labor-intensive. It is also affected by unpredictable weather events like El Niño droughts. These working environments can expose farmers to a high risk of debilitating pains and mental stress. I am looking forward to learning about Cambodian rice farmers’ farming experiences and understanding their needs and interests in promoting health.
Do you have professors or mentors you'd like to thank?
I am grateful for Dr. Maya Ramaswamy, an alumnus of Boren and the UI College of Public Health, for her mentoring, encouragement, and generous support in my Boren application as well as my studies at the UI. I would like to thank Dr. Diane Rohlman and Dr. Brandi Janssen for supporting my Boren pursuit, and Dr. Karen Wachsmuth and Dr. William Reisinger for critiquing my essays. My gratitude also goes to Dr. Roger Garms and Mr. Sarith Ou for their support in helping to plan my project before I even completed the essays. Lastly, I am grateful for Mr. George Siemon and my family and friends for their steadfast support in all my pursuits since I landed in the U.S., including the Boren application and soon-to-come Cambodia adventure.
Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance. Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).