Tuesday, July 16, 2024

NSU grad student Christopher Doney awarded Fulbright to serve in Uzbekistan

by BPT Staff
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A Northwestern State University graduate student in the Department of English, Languages and Cultural Studies has been awarded a 2024-25 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to serve in the Republic of Uzbekistan in Central Asia.  Christopher Doney of Alexandria plans to arrive in Uzbekistan Sept. 7 and serve there for nine months in the city of Namangan at Namangan State University. Namangan is located in the far-northeastern reaches of Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley, near to the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. He is the first ever NSU student to earn a Fulbright Award. 

Doney was a semifinalist for a Fulbright Award in 2023 and was an alternate this year before being selected for the award. The Fulbright Student Program is a competitive, fully funded student-exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The program is offered to graduate and graduating undergraduate students, both domestically and abroad.

In addition to the Fulbright, Doney was awarded a $1,500 Graduate Research Grant earlier this year from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Those competitive grants are designed to support graduate students who are active Society members seeking funding for research in support of career development opportunities. Doney is one of 20 recipients nationwide to receive the award. The grant enabled him to study and present findings on the cultural impact of the English language in Central Asia. 

Doney earned a B.A. in liberal arts with a minor in English at NSU in 2022 and will graduate this August with a Master of Arts in English with a concentration in writing and linguistics.

His academic path has not been conventional. 

“I was a student on full scholarship at New York University-Abu Dhabi when extremely strict COVID protocols were implemented at NYUAD and the UAE. All classes at NYUAD were moved online, so I decided to take a leave of absence, return to Alexandria and consider my next steps,” he said. “I am a hiking enthusiast, so after discussing my situation with my parents, I decided to travel to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for a two-week trip. Tajikistan is a mountainous country and former Soviet Republic, and it has some of the best hiking in the world. Once I arrived in Tajikistan, I fell in love with the country, the people, and the hiking.”

After returning to Alexandria, Doney decided to register at NSU as an online student and take classes remotely from Tajikistan. While he was there, the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan took place, and many Afghan refugees poured across the border into Tajikistan.

“Most of them had nothing with them but their clothes,” Doney said. “I wanted to help these people, so I collaborated with the government of Tajikistan and opened a language learning center where I taught English-language classes to Tajiks and Afghans of all ages. I did this on top of taking online classes at NSU fulltime.”

An extension of his master’s thesis, his research investigates the pervasiveness of English in the linguistic landscape of Tajikistan, and the reactions of its citizens to the increasing prevalence of English in private settings and public signage such as street signs, store signs and billboards. 

“Since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the ensuing independence of several Central Asian countries, the English language has become ubiquitous in the region, and Tajikistan is no exception.”

Doney said Tajikistan is a culturally and linguistically diverse nation with most citizens having knowledge of two or more languages. Doney gathered information through interviews of nearly 100 Tajikistani citizens ranging in age from 18 to 80. Individuals were asked if English is a welcome addition or if there is resentment about its prevalence and if minority languages and culture have been displaced or at risk of extinction. 

“Although some respondents voiced concerns about the ubiquity of English, most welcomed the addition of English and viewed it as a positive development. The primary significance of this study is that the results were obtained through grounded theory and may be used to guide Tajikistan’s future linguistic policy so that minority languages are protected and any potential damage by English is mitigated.”

Living and teaching abroad were not new to Doney. He was a math and English tutor through his high school years, and for a gap year, was a study-abroad student in Taiwan. By learning English, Doney believes individuals are empowered to get better jobs, provide more for their families and escape poverty.

“I have always enjoyed helping and empowering others, and teaching abroad is one of the best ways to do that,” he said. “English is the global lingua franca. The language is no longer owned by native speakers of English, and they don’t control it. It is bigger than any one group. For example, there are four times as many people who speak English not as their first language as there are native English speakers. English is more like an open-source code. Any country can adapt it to its specific needs, and many do just that.”

            Eventually, he hopes to get a Ph.D. in linguistics or applied linguistics.

“I plan to live abroad, but not necessarily to teach abroad in the long term,” he said. “I hope to join the U.S. Foreign Service and become an ambassador one day. I love learning foreign languages, and I would like to help solve some of the world’s problems through diplomacy.”

Doney credited his professors at NSU for their help on his academic journey, especially Dr. Thomas Reynolds, his faculty mentor, thesis committee chair, and head of the Department of English, Languages and Cultural Studies, Dr. Lisa Abney, Dr. Patrice Moulton, and Dr. Keith Dromm, NSU’s Fulbright program advisor.

“It is a tremendous honor for NSU that one of its students received a Fulbright Award,” Dromm said. “Christopher is a remarkable student and a model for others who want to apply for a Fulbright or similar award. He has extensive study — and also just living — abroad experience. More importantly, he has demonstrated a lot of initiative. I believe he will represent NSU and the United States very well while abroad.”

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