Going Places: Milken Scholars Research Africa and Asia with Program Support!

Written by Soniya Gurung, Haeeun (Blessing) Jee, Haesung Jee, Benjamin Sorkin | 01/27/2021

In 2012 Michael Milken introduced a world-revealing feature to the Milken Scholars Program: The Africa and Asia Stipend. As with all program features, this exciting development created another opportunity for Milken Scholars to expand their horizons with Program support. The impact it has made thus far has been tremendous.

The purpose of the Africa and Asia Stipend is to reimburse Milken Scholars for a portion of their expenses associated with traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia in their efforts to produce research that furthers their educational goals and individual interests, and which align with the mission statements of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation. 

Scholars who participate receive a $1,000 stipend following the trip and after submitting a report.

Since the Africa and Asia Research Stipend began there have been seventy-one stipends issued for travel to two dozen different countries within Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Milken Scholars have used the stipend to conduct research on a diverse range of topics from health care, education, and public policy to local cultural customs and changing mores. Participants have visited countries that include South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Ghana, and Ethiopia in Africa; Jordan, Turkey, Tunis, Israel, and Morocco in the Middle East; and China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, and Vietnam in Asia. 

The Africa and Asia Research Stipend brings into focus the wide scope of interests and international experience that Milken Scholars possess.

Haesung Jee, MS ’19, used the stipend last year for her trip to South Korea. “I’m grateful to the Milken Scholar leadership team, who gladly answered all of my questions about applying for funding. They made the process intuitive and accessible.”  She adds the trip gave her the opportunity to “broaden my worldview and my knowledge of environmental policy.”

2013 Milken Scholars Soniya Gurung and Caroline Chiu collaborated for a trip to Morocco in December of 2019. “I highly recommend other Scholars to come together and travel with one another,” Soniya advises, “the process to apply for the fund was very straightforward - I sent an email explaining the research topic in mind, a destination planned, and the travel dates. Thank you to the MSP staff team for making it so seamless for Scholars to apply and get reimbursed for these trips!”

As far as her topic, Soniya recounts that the topic came together naturally, “I was looking up places in Morocco and it quickly became clear that the country has this juxtaposition and is extremely religious and conservative once you are outside the main cities. I was very curious what it is like to be a young woman in a country that was holding on to its tradition in one hand, yet also striving to modernize in the major cities. Throw in a Royal Family with a ‘Ghost Princess’ who had not been seen in public for quite some time and voila, the topic pretty much came to life in my mind before I even left for the trip!”

Soniya expands on how the stipend helped to bring her trip to fruition, “the stipend is so helpful to pay for international flights. I funded my trip mainly with the stipend amount and partially on my own, which made it so much more affordable to travel during peak tourist season. I absolutely love the stipend program and hope I can use it again to travel to Asia when it is safe again!”

Soniya is not the only Milken Scholar who has thought about using the stipend more than once. 

Ben Sorkin, MS ’16, used the stipend to visit multiple countries during his time as an undergraduate. “The travel fund has been a key part of my Milken Scholars experience! I was fortunate enough to take advantage of it a few times in my time at Harvard, and this culminating trip to Russia was the most exciting usage of the fund.” 

Ben reports that the stipend helped him to “find accommodations during my time learning about the Fulbright program and the teachers' experiences.  I interviewed US Fulbright teachers on how they perceive their role in US-Russia cultural diplomacy in the classroom and in their local communities.”

The Milken Scholars Africa and Asia Stipend has helped Scholars far more than as a matter of logistics.  It has led to life-changing experiences and unique knowledge that can only be gained from going places around the world.  As Blessing Jee, MS ’13, says of her trip to South Korea, “I gained important insights on cultural and institutional differences between South Korea and the United States, which have shaped the way I process the pandemic's situation in the United States.”

This important program element brings additional value to the Milken Scholar experience by complimenting the characteristics already present throughout the entire Milken Scholars Family: curiosity, worldliness, and the desire to expand knowledge.  The Africa and Asia Stipend is just one among many resources the Milken Scholars Program has to offer its recipients.