Caitlin Grant, a senior at Ave Maria University, has been a part of Ave Maria since the campus moved from the Vineyards, in Naples, here to its' new location. While her vocation has not always been clear, she has followed God's call for her life fearlessly and boldly and has decided to pursue a Master's degree in both Russian Studies and International Relations at NYU in New York City. In order to further prepare, this summer, Caitlin will be taking an 8 week Russian Language intensive course in Arizona and spend the remaining month immersed in the language while in the country of Kyrgyzstan.
Have you always been interested in politics?
Absolutely. I’ve always been in awe of different cultures and languages. I remember when I was little, I used to check out library books about other kids from around the world and look at what they did and what they wore. It was fascinating. I always wanted to learn languages… I wanted to be able to communicate with the people I saw and read about in the books. As I grew up, I became increasingly interested in what was going on around the world. My friend’s parents used to laugh at me because I would always know what was going on in Africa and Asia and South America. It made me wonder why more people were not as invested in international affairs. I guess that is how I originally got into politics.
How did you decide to come to Ave Maria?
I looked into a number of different undergrad schools before I decided, but Ave gave me a great scholarship which of course helped my decision. I came down to visit for the first time in February of 2005, and when I sat in on Dr. Seana Sugrue’s International Relations class, I was sold. All I could think was “This woman is worth every penny that I will pay to go to this school”. I took her class when I came here and we read Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy”, which changed how I saw the world. I had grown up thinking that America was always “the good guy”, and I still believe that America is good and I love being American, but that book really kick-started my thinking about studying international relations. It's not that Americans are wrong, it’s just that we don’t always look at the whole picture…I want to change that.
I know that you are a non-traditional student. Could you explain the timeline of your studies?
I came to Ave in 2005 and I was here for 3 years before I felt that perhaps I had a vocation. I moved to Europe and discerned a religious vocation, living both in Spain and Italy. After I decided that the religious life was not my calling, I worked in Washington DC for the Art of Being a Woman Project. It was an amazing experience working for an organization with a mission that I felt passionately about. It was awesome to be able to get a feel for DC, but after that, I decided that it was really important to finish school, so I came back! I know that I’m a non-traditional student, but I’m so happy that I decided to earn my degree. I get so much out of learning from the new students, even though there is a big age gap.
How has Ave changed since you started here in 2005?
I started on Ave’s old campus in 2005, and I was here the very first year that we moved out to the new campus. There were about 10 houses here at that point in time. There was no Publix, no Pub, no Field House… I don’t even think the Bean was here. There were only 3 dorm buildings and about 500 students, so that gives you a sense of how small it was. It’s funny to me now, because every day I see someone who I have never seen before, which is surprising! I think that there is more diversity, insofar as there are people who are coming here for different reasons. I love that. It is also amazing to me how many new majors that there are. Celebrating Tom Monaghan’s birthday last weekend just made me realize how one person can deeply touch so many lives. I hope Ave Maria never gives up on its dream of becoming a big school that is strong spiritually, academically, and athletically.
What did you do during your time abroad that helped you to develop your skills?
After living in Europe, I really knew how to work with other people that thought differently than I did. I was in Spain for two years and Italy for another two, which was absolutely incredible. I did go to Europe to discern, I just wasn’t a religious the whole time that I was there. Part of the time, I worked for a news agency translating from Spanish to English. It was very humbling because my co-worker was a man whose first language was Portuguese, and he was translating from Spanish to English. We would check each other’s work, and he would correct MY grammar. He was translating from one foreign language to another and he was correcting me in my first language! It is just incredible how smart some people are.
Another amazing thing was being able to help with an organization called Aide to the Church in Need. I was in charge of working the camera or doing the interviewing, so I was able to meet some spectacular people. Being able to see and learn from so many individuals from all walks of life was a very moving experience. The most memorable was a man I interviewed who was from Iraq, who wouldn’t let us take a headshot. He was afraid for the safety of his family back in Iraq, so we had to take many precautions. It made it very real that people are living much differently than we are.
What are your plans for the summer?
I was told about a few different summer intensive Russian language programs when I spoke to Georgetown about grad-school, so I applied to a few of them and got in! The program that I will be participating in this summer is through Arizona State University, so I will be spending the summer in Phoenix! I was blessed to receive a scholarship too, which of course always pulls you closer to something. The neat thing about the program is that 8 weeks of learning will take place in Phoenix and for the last 4 weeks, we will be in Kyrgyzstan! I am super excited about that! Kyrgyzstan isn’t part of Russia, but it used to be, so it has very deep cultural Russian roots. The London School of Languages and Cultures has a satellite school in Bishkek, which is the capitol of Kyrgyzstan. That is where the intensive study will take place and we will be living with host families as well, in order to get the immersion aspect. Every weekend we will do an excursion to a different part of the country, which will allow us to see quite a few cultural sites. I am so excited because I know that this will help me to understand Russia from a different point of view.
Where are you going to grad school?
I have decided to go to NYU, which is an amazing school for politics. They are ranked #3 in networking for their alumni in the country, which is huge in the world of politics for gaining connections. NYU has awesome professors and really great alumni. I’m really open about what I will do with my degree because I know life takes you places and that you never expect, but of course you need goals, so my goal is to work as a foreign diplomacy officer for the State Department. I feel like by knowing Russian, I will be able to work with the people on a personal level. I don’t want to go over there and come across in a way that conveys, “We are the good guys, you are the bad guys, would you please behave?” I have never been to Russia before, but at NYU, you have the chance of going pretty much anywhere in the world that you want to study for a semester. My time at NYU will be two years, and then I’ll see where life takes me! My degree when I graduate from NYU will be a joint degree in Russian Studies and International Relations.
What is a goal that you have for the future?
When I was in Europe, I discovered that I really love photography. I want to teach the West about the East, so I would love to do something like Humans of New York, but over in Russia.
What is the hardest part about learning a new language?
The embarrassment! When you’re learning a new language, you really need to put down your guard and make the sounds that seem weird to you, because if you don’t make them, you sound weird to them! You’ve got to come out of your shell in that sense. I don’t feel like you can really capture the essence of a country without learning their language.
What gave you a desire to learn Russian?
Everyone knows that the Middle East is important, but Russia is an incredibly pivotal country as well, and no one thinks about them nearly as much as they do the Middle East. Historically, Russia has had a way of making their presence felt internationally through violence. I just want the West to see that we are open to listening in other ways. I want the world to see that Russia is more than Putin and communism. The passion to make that known grew in my mind and my heart and lead me to choose to learn the language. I enrolled in a Mango language course and have been learning Russian online for the past year, thanks to the Ave Maria library! I am so grateful that they provide that resource. I actually wasn’t going to go to Grad school for a couple of years, but then I realized that most people wait to go to grad school so that they can learn about themselves and I have already had that time to learn about myself. I also want to learn Russian because at NYU you need to be advanced in Russian so that you know Russian by the time that you graduate. In addition to the summer program that I have enrolled in, I will probably audit advanced Russian classes just to immerse myself.
To help support Caitlin in her dream of becoming a U.S. Ambassador to Russia, contribute to her GoFundMe Campaign.