Funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), Boren Scholarships prioritize geographic areas, languages and fields of study deemed critical to U.S. national security and typically underrepresented in study-abroad programs.
“Amharic has a major significance within the Horn of Africa, because Ethiopia is the third most populous country in Africa, right after Nigeria and Egypt,” Sirack said. “Having the ability to speak Amharic is key geopolitically because Ethiopia is close to the Middle East and one of the most important waterways in the world, Bab el-Mandeb.”
Sirack’s parents are from Ethiopia, and while she knows how to speak Amharic, she never had the opportunity to learn to write in the language.
Amharic is one of the most challenging languages to learn because it has seven primary forms and 33 major characters, she explained. These seven forms are based upon a combination of vowels and syllables. There are a total of 231 characters, each having a different meaning when combined with each other.
“I realized the power of language and communication during my past two internships with the International Institute of New England and the U.S. Department of Defense,” she said. “At IINE, there were many who knew little English. I especially remember two clients. One was from Ethiopia and another was from Somalia and knew how to speak Amharic because of his past career. I will never forget their sigh of relief when they knew that there was someone who knew Amharic and could help them translate. This experience made me realize the power of language because I was able to help them get introduced to American society. I took them shopping, and my ability to communicate with them helped build a sense of trust.”
As an intern at the U.S. Department of Defense (AFRICOM) this past academic year, Sirack studied Chinese investments in Africa and understood having the ability to write in Amharic would allow her to reach a larger audience outside of English speakers.
“It made me realize the strategic importance of Ethiopia and the significance of knowing Amharic,” she said. “The ability to read and write in the language would give me access to understand relevant news outlets and government documents.”
Sirack, a double major in international studies and economics, recently presented capstone research projects on the consequences of Chinese infrastructure investments in Africa and race and income inequality in Boston to earn Distinction in the Field in both disciplines. She plans to find research projects that fit her interests when she begins her studies at Addis Ababa University.