Sierra Rupp ’23 is about to embark on the educational experience of a lifetime. The recent political science graduate has earned both a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) from the U.S. Department of State to study Russian in Kyrgyzstan, and admission into the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to teach English in Spain.

Growing up in Bellevue, WA, Rupp was first exposed to the Russian language through Russian hip hop and rock, a genre that aligned with the grunge music scene she grew up with. When she began researching the lyrics to popular songs, she discovered that many of them include criticisms of the Russian government and insights into the Russian way of life.

In her pursuit to further understand the Russian language, Rupp was introduced to the CLS program, a U.S. Department of State-led effort to expand the number of American students studying and mastering foreign languages that are critical to U.S. national security, economic prosperity, and engagement with the rest of the world.

I really do love language learning. It’s always something that has brought me a lot of joy. - Sierra Rupp, ’23

Last summer, Rupp applied and was accepted into the CLS Spark program, an intense, eight-week, online Russian course designed to be a precursor to studying abroad for students with no prior classroom experience with the language. From her home in Washington, Rupp attended virtual classes taught by university professors in Moldova.

“The program and the time difference were hard, but I really do love language learning,” Rupp said. “It’s always something that has brought me a lot of joy. I studied Italian, German, Arabic, and Spanish during my dual enrollment back in Seattle and while at SU, so for me it was just really cool to participate in this program for Russian.”

After completing CLS Spark, Rupp went to work on her application for the study abroad portion of the CLS program. Working with her faculty mentors Professor of Political Science Eric Selbin, Associate Professor of German Erika Berroth, and Professor of Spanish Katy Ross, as well as Senior Associate Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development Alexandra Anderson, Rupp spent about six months writing essays and refining her application.

“From the moment she arrived, it was clear she was bright, smart, quick, and clever, but who knew she was also fun and funny,” Dr. Selbin said. “She pushed herself to always be and do better, sought out critique, and always, always wanted to learn. But in addition to learning, Ms. Rupp is a teacher, always willing to generously share her insights, analyses, and best of all, questions. Part of her growth was her recognition that while answers come and go, it is questions that abide.”

For three months beginning this June, Rupp will study at the American University of Central Asia in the capital city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She will live with a host family and study with a language partner from the community. Her weekends will be spent on excursions designed to learn more about the culture and traditions of the Kyrgyz people.

“I’m most excited about the cultural and language immersion aspects,” Rupp said. “You can study a language all you want here in the U.S., but I’m really excited to be around it and hear it spoken on the street. I can’t wait to go abroad and really speak with people and learn it.”

About a month after she completes the CLS program in Kyrgyzstan, Rupp will be off to Spain as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. She was one of two Southwestern students to earn admission into the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program, where American students teach English in Spanish schools. With a passion for public service, Rupp is excited about the opportunities that the program will afford her.

“I applied to Fulbright to step into a new field of public service,” Rupp said. “I’ve worked in community engagement, in law enforcement, and in the government, but I wanted another way to really round myself out as a professional. I think education is an important part of that, especially with how important being bilingual is for public servants.”

Currently working for the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Rupp aims to return to the field of public service when she completes both the CLS and Fulbright programs.

As a student-athlete during her time at Southwestern, Rupp believes her involvement in the SU women’s lacrosse program helped her secure opportunities to study abroad. Through athletics, she was also able to gain teaching experience as a youth lacrosse coach, a quality that enhanced her Fulbright application.

“Being able to not only play lacrosse, but continue to pursue my academic and professional interests was a huge part of getting through for Fulbright,” Rupp said. “I feel like it made me a more well rounded applicant because I wasn’t only sitting on one side of just academics or just athletics.”

While at SU, Rupp earned an internship with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in the Office of Africa and the Middle East at the U.S. Department of State, which allowed her to travel to Washington, D.C through the CHIP program. This internship, paired with her academic courses and athletic experience at Southwestern, ultimately led Rupp down the path that she’s on today.

“It’s a compilation of all of the things I achieved while at SU,” Rupp said of her upcoming experiences abroad. “I studied a lot of different topics in my political science classes and always dreamed of going abroad. I spoke with a lot of different professors about a lot of different ways to make that possible. It’s extremely rewarding that it all paid off in the end, and that I actually get to go abroad and learn and continue to grow as a young professional.”