Complex issues demand patience, attention to detail, and an open mind to fully grasp. Which is why College master’s student Alaina DeLeo chose to continue her research on narcotics trafficking and bride kidnapping as part of the KU Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies’ (CREES) accelerated graduate program.
The accelerated FASt Track program for Foreign Area Officers (FAO) is designed to allow students to delve into their subjects through in-depth coursework while completing their degree is less time than a traditional graduate degree. “I wanted a degree with excellent instruction in a shorter period of time than a traditional master’s degree,” Alaina explains. “The FAO program is much more affordable than a full two-year program and still offered strong language instruction and research opportunities.”
See what Alaina had to say about the College’s Accelerated Master’s Degree program, her immersive study abroad in Siberia, and what people should know about her research.
What are your research interests and why did you choose them?
My research focuses on Central Asia, specifically narcotics trafficking and bride kidnapping. My first major research project was on Narcotics Trafficking in Tajikistan and looked specifically at the Tajik government for criminal connections. I had the unforgettable opportunity to present my research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, inspiring me to look further into the Central Asian region. The summer after graduation I spent the summer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to study Russian on the Critical Language Scholarship program. Living in Central Asia gave me a unique view of security and social issues, further inspiring my research. The moment that stands out the most is a heart to heart conversation with my host mother, who told me about her experiences with bride kidnapping. I began interviewing friends, neighbors, and locals about their experiences ultimately leading me to my current research on Kyrgyz bride kidnapping.
What is one thing you think everyone should know about your research interests?
Many people look at issues such as bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan through an ethnocentric worldview. Keeping an open mind and listening is of the utmost importance. With such a complex issue, looking at the problem without understanding Central Asian history and points of view will result in misunderstandings and major biases in academic work.
Why did you choose to pursue an accelerated master’s degree in the College?
I chose to purse an accelerated master’s degree for several reasons. I wanted a degree with excellent instruction in a shorter period of time than a traditional master’s degree because I am ready to enter the professional world. I also chose this path for economic reasons. The FAO program is much more affordable than a full two-year program and still offered strong language instruction and research opportunities. So far, I love my program and have nothing but great things to say about the staff, instruction, and opportunities available!
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
I love the diversity of viewpoints. Listening to people from all academic backgrounds provides a wide breath of knowledge and teaches multiple ways to problem solve. I find myself learning new things every day and I constantly discover new interests and hobbies through my interactions with students with all different backgrounds.
Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?
Although I am grateful to so many people, I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Lagotte, Dr. Six, and Dr. Ahmad. I never imagined myself enjoying research or ever going to graduate school, but Dr. Lagotte inspired me to work hard and push myself. I learned an unbelievable amount in his class, and I consider his GIST 698 course the most beneficial class I ever took. I also want to thank Dr. Irina Six for helping me develop my Russian skills, the countless letters of recommendation, and her dedication to helping her students. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Razi Ahmad for his enthusiastic teaching. Dr. Ahmad helped me build not only my Persian language skills, but also taught me so much about the Persian speaking world.
Have you done any internships, study abroad programs, or any other learning experiences you’d like to share?
I had the opportunity to study abroad twice during my time at KU; I even got the chance to sing for the Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan! I spent one year in Siberia during my sophomore year as one of the only Americans on my program. Living in a completely immersive environment allowed me to make unparalleled Russian language gains. I lived with several local Russian indigenous students who taught me about unique Siberian culture and even took me on a week-long trip around the Republic of Buryatia. I also made frequent trips to Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world with thousands of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. During my study abroad program I completed a journalism internship where I published over 20 articles about the unique aspects of life and culture in Siberia, learned about arctic preservation, and even got so cold my eyelashes froze! I also studied abroad in Kyrgyzstan, living with a local host family. During my time, my family took me to a special (toi) Kyrgyz celebration. This celebration was a nomadic sports competition taking place for the first time in 30 years, and I was the only westerner in attendance. This was just one of my many incredible experiences overseas, and memories I will cherish forever.
What would you tell your freshman self?
I would tell my freshman self to try new things and not be afraid to branch out. My favorite activities I came across by chance. By taking a simple risk I joined the Bollywood Fusion dance team KU JEEVA, which was my favorite organization during my 4 years. By putting myself out there I got to be President of the Russian club and study abroad, not to mention meet many genuine friends. Try new things and be yourself!
What do you want to do when you graduate?
I want to work in International security and development. I am incredibly passionate about human rights and would love to work in Central Asia!
What motivates you?
I am naturally very intrinsically motivated. I am a very curious person and I love to learn and grow. I make the most out of any situation and strive to be the best I can be!
Be like Alaina. For more information, explore the College’s Accelerated Degrees, the Accelerated Master’s Program – Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, the Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global & International Studies at the University of Kansas.