Scholarship helps ASU student explore Balkan roots


Matt Oxford

Marija Drozdek always had a strong passion for languages and cultures. This passion coupled with her family’s Balkan roots led to her studying abroad.

The hurdle for the political science major at Arizona State University was the cost. Fortunately, she found the perfect resource in the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

The Melikian Center, directed by School of Politics and Global Studies Professor Keith Brown, advances innovative use-inspired research and teaching on the languages, societies and geopolitics of greater Eurasia. The center also sponsors the Critical Languages Institute.

Drozdek was the recipient of the Hastings Award, just one of the many scholarships that the Melikian Center offers. This award supports students who are interested in learning less-commonly known languages who aim to pursue a career in international affairs or business.

With aspirations of a future career as a diplomat, this opportunity was exactly what Drozdek was looking for. With this scholarship she would get to travel to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.

“Thanks to the Melikian Center, I had the chance to connect to my roots and speak the language with others besides my family,” said Drozdek, whose family immigrated from Serbia.

During her time in Bosnia, Drozdek’s Serb-Croatian significantly improved, thanks not only to intensive language classes but also day-to-day conversations.

Besides her family’s background, Sarajevo was the ideal location for Drozdek because she was attracted to the mix of cultures from the East and West. Sarajevo, according to Drozdek, showed every phase of Balkan history from the Ottoman style, to the Austrian-Hungarian phase, to the more recent modern buildings.

Traveling to Sarajevo provided Drozdek with the opportunity to better understand the current political and social environment of the Balkans. The regional conflict, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is her main source of inspiration to one day becoming a diplomat.

Her interest in politics was sparked during her first semester when she took a course on globalization and international relations. This class helped Drozdek realize how “essential and fascinating” politics can be.

“My degree in political science has given me the tools to be culturally aware and able to function in a multicultural world,” Drozdek said.

Being born in the United States and raised in a Serbian household, Drozdek was unsure how she would fit in during her time abroad. However, it ended up being a fulfilling, life-changing experience.

“This scholarship was one of the best gifts I have received in my life,” she said. “I feel so much more confident in my dream to help give back to the region that has helped shape me.”

This is just one of the many experiences offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, which has 250-plus programs in more than 65 different countries.