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College of Arts and Sciences

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Summer internship in Kazakhstan leads Russian major to dream career path

During his internship in Kazakhstan last summer, McLean Brown gained not only a wealth of research experience but also a grandmother figure and friend named Zaya. 

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The Russian major interned with the School of Russian and Asian Studies, practicing his language skills and observing Kazakh culture. His friend Zaya, an elderly Russian woman he met while volunteering on an expedition with the Partnership for Russian, East European and Eurasian Folklore, took him under her wing, welcoming him as one of her own grandchildren. 

“The Kazakh people were all so inviting. They really appreciated any effort to communicate with them in their languages,” Brown says. 

As an Honor’s student, Brown had come to USC with the goal of working in the sciences. He had tried several other majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, including in the sciences, before exploring the types of careers available to a Languages, Literatures and Cultures graduate. 

“I used to believe I needed to pursue a career in STEM to be successful, but after taking my Russian classes, I realized there are plenty of career opportunities in the humanities.” 

Now Brown aspires to become a professor and researcher in Central Asian Studies. 

Brown got first-hand experience conducting the type of ethnographic research he may one day do in his career. He attended cultural events like the Ivan Kupala folk festival and even a soccer match and later published his experiences as part of his internship. 

“The trip changed my life and cemented this region of the world for my research,” he says. 

The experience also helped solidify his focus for his senior thesis, which explores Kazakh identity through language policies. Brown plans to continue his investigations on the topic in graduate school following graduation this May, and he credits the internship with his success in getting into two of his top-choice programs. 

Reflecting on his time abroad, Brown says that getting outside the U.S. allowed him to make valuable connections, from applying things he learned in the classroom to forging bonds with new friends. 

“There are things you have to experience firsthand to really appreciate,” Brown says. I encourage other students to get out of their comfort zones, and I cannot recommend this type of immersive study abroad experience enough.” 

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